Guidance for line managers in supporting disabled staff

Updated on 28 June 2022

This details guidance which enables University line managers to provide a streamlined and inclusive approach to supporting disabled colleagues, with all types of impairment or medical conditions.

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This guidance should be used in conjunction with the Staff Disability Statement.

You will have completed the relevant Disability Equality online training module; however this information can be accessed at any time to refresh your memory. Additional training opportunities are also provided on the Talent and Development programme or can be arranged directly with Disability Services and/or the Health Service.

Your responsibilities as a line manager

Your responsibility as a Discipline Lead / Dean of School /Director or line manager is to ensure that all staff within your Discipline/School/Directorate:

  • Support the implementation of the University’s Equality Outcomes Plan
  • Comply with the Equality Act
  • Complete the equality and diversity online training modules
  • Promote equality and non-discriminatory practice
  • Support the implementation of reasonable adjustments in the workplace

As Discipline Lead / Dean of School /Director or line manager, you are also responsible for:

  • Implementing and monitoring all reasonable adjustments that have been identified to meet the individual disability-related needs of disabled staff in your Discipline/School/Directorate
  • Managing complaints of unlawful discrimination and taking appropriate action to promote equality and non-discriminatory practice
  • Ensuring all action in the University’s Equality Outcome Plan is implemented and monitored as appropriate to your area of responsibility
  • Supporting a culture where disabled employees are comfortable enough with you and their colleagues to disclose a disability

Meeting and working with disabled staff

The University supports the Social Model of Disability; this states that the poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion experienced by many disabled people is not the inevitable result of their impairments or medical conditions, but rather stems from attitudinal and environmental barriers within society.

The Social Model of Disability recognises that barriers can be reinforced by the use of language and terminology that creates a negative view or passive role for disabled people (as in the expressions 'suffering from' or 'wheelchair bound'), or by the use of terminology that views people with the same impairment as a homogeneous group (as in the term 'the disabled'). The use of such language should therefore be avoided in all communications with or about disabled people.

The Social Model of Disability also recognises that people have 'impairments', and that 'disability' is the outcome of the interaction between a person with an impairment and the attitudinal and environmental barriers they face. As such, the use of the term 'disabled people' is usually preferred over 'people with disabilities' as it places the emphasis on the disabling effect of barriers rather than on people’s impairment.

Further information on meeting and communicating with disabled people is available from the Business Disability Forum's Disability Communication Guide‌.

Further information on working with disabled staff is also available from the Business Disability Forum and Advance HE.

Equality Act (2010)

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for disabled people to be discriminated against unjustifiably in all aspects of employment, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Terms of employment
  • Promotion, transfer or training opportunities
  • Benefits
  • Dismissal or redundancy
  • Post employment (e.g. references)

According to the Equality Act, Discrimination occurs when:

  • A disabled employee is treated less favourably than another employee
  • The treatment is related to the employees disability
  • The treatment cannot be fairly justified

The Equality Act also states that employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled employees have equal opportunity in the work place. Things that the University will take into account when investigating reasonable adjustments for a member of staff are:

  • the effectiveness of the adjustment in preventing the disadvantage
  • the practicability of making the adjustment
  • the financial and other costs of the adjustment
  • the extent of the University’s financial and other resources
  • the extent of any disruption caused
  • the availability of financial, such as through Access to Work, or other assistance to help make the adjustment

Further details of the employment provisions of the Equality Act, including practical examples, are available in the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Code of Practice on Employment.

Who is defined as disabled?

The Equality Act provides the following definition:

a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities

Equality Act's definition of 'disability'

Substantial is defined as neither minor nor trivial.

Long term is defined as lasting longer than 12 months, is likely to last longer than 12 months, or is likely to last for the rest of your life.

This definition covers a wide range of physical, mental and sensory impairments, including specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and chronic health conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and depression. Certain medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV, are covered by the definition of disability from the point of diagnosis.

If you are still unsure as to whether a member of staff in your Discipline/School/Directorate is covered by the above definition you can seek guidance from People Support team, Occupational Health or Disability Services.

Further information is also available from the Office for Disability Issues’ guidance: Definition of Disability Under the Equality Act 2010.

Reasonable adjustments

Examples of reasonable adjustments that may be considered for disabled staff are listed below:

  • re-allocation of duties
  • flexible working hours
  • changes to procedures or working practices
  • time off for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment
  • additional training
  • purchase or modification of equipment
  • modification of reading and information formats
  • redeployment
  • provision of a support worker

Guidance on reasonable adjustments can be sought from the People Support team, Occupational Health or Disability Services.

These adjustments should be monitored and reviewed regularly to ensure that they are still applicable and to determine if and when additional adjustments are required.

Many reasonable adjustments can be provided at no financial cost. Where such costs are required, reasonable adjustments are funded in two ways:

  • Access to work (Government grant which can pay up to 100% of the cost of identified adjustments for new employees; up to 80% otherwise)
  • School / Discipline / Directorate budget

If a disabled member of staff is returning to work following a period of sick leave, appropriate return-to-work adjustments should be agreed upon in consultation with the member of staff, the People Support team and Occupational Health.

In the event that reasonable adjustments cannot sufficiently enable the staff member to carry on in their post, possible options are to transfer to another post (with reasonable adjustments and possibly training), retirement on the grounds of ill health or termination of contract.

The latter two options will only be investigated as an absolute last resort following due process. If it appears that reasonable adjustments will not allow the member of staff to carry out the post, please contact the People Support team for advice.

Access to work

Access to Work is available to help overcome the work-related issues resulting from disability. It offers practical advice and help in a flexible way that can be tailored to suit the needs of an individual in a particular job.

Access to Work can offer a grant towards the approved costs that arise because of a disability. For people who are starting a job with the University, the grant is set up to 100% of approved costs. For those who already work for the University, the grant is up to 80% of the approved costs over the first £1000. The balance of costs that exceed £10,000 are normally paid in full by Access to Work.

Access to Work might pay towards the cost of equipment, adapting premises, or employing a support worker. It can also pay towards the cost of getting to work if the member of staff is unable to use trains or buses, and for a communicator at job interviews. Staff can also access free support for their mental health at work through the Mental Health Support Service either by applying to Access to Work or by contacting the providers direct: Able Futures or Remploy Travel and support worker costs, such as BSL assistants are also fully funded if approved by ATW.

If a member of staff has a disability and is seeking support through Access to Work they should contact you as their line manager and/or the People Support team in the first instance. The People Support team may then if necessary arrange an Occupational Health appointment. Occupational Health will assist to provide the information that may be required to progress an Access to Work application i.e. confirmation of diagnosis of a condition . Staff can also apply directly to Access to Work online via the Government’s Access to Work website or by phone but should be advised to inform you as their line manager or the People Support team of this as Access to Work will need to contact the University to progress their application. If staff have any difficulty making the Access to Work application, the People Support team can facilitate this process and can provide support with completing the online form if necessary.

On receipt of an Access to Work application:

  1. An Access to Work assessor will contact the member of staff to arrange a suitable time to discuss their work-related support needs. They may be able to agree a support package with the member of staff there and then, especially if they already have a clear idea of what is need. Otherwise, they may offer the staff member the chance to meet with someone with specialist knowledge to help identify their specific support requirements.
  2. The Access to Work Advisor will then contact the People Support team to discuss what financial contribution the University can make, and ensure the support that the staff member needs can be provided in their workplace. The People Support team will normally liaise with you over this.
  3. The Access to Work Advisor will send the University details of the support agreed. The staff member’s School/ Unit is responsible for any practical arrangements, such as purchasing equipment, and implementing support.
  4. No equipment or other support should be purchased without first obtaining consent from Access to Work. Interim arrangements must be made to ensure that the member of staff is not significantly disadvantaged pending receipt of equipment/other support through Access to Work. Advice on this can be sought from the People Support team and Disability Services.
  5. If IT equipment and software is recommended by ATW it is important to contact IT support to ensure compatibility with University systems.


Employers have specific responsibilities under the Equality Act towards job applicants and candidates with disabilities. They must not:

  • treat a disabled person less favourably because of their disability
  • discriminate unjustifiably i.e. if an individual is not considered for a post, or not offered a post for reason of their disability, the employer must be capable of demonstrating that the disability is of such significance in relation to the job that it would not be possible to appoint the disabled person

Furthermore, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the physical working environment or work practices to facilitate the employment of a disabled person. The University is also obliged to make reasonable adjustments for interviews; this may include for example, arranging the interview in an accessible location or providing an interpreter.

There is no requirement for a candidate with a disability to disclose information about their condition. However, if a candidate has disclosed the fact that they have a disability or asked for particular arrangements to be made at interview, which relate to a disability or they have a noticeable disability the matter should be addressed with them in an appropriate and sensitive manner.

At interview the Interview Panel should ensure any questions asked about the candidate’s disability / condition are asked to understand the nature of the disability as it relates to the job and what adjustments, if any, are required. Information obtained from the candidate will enable the Interview Panel to assess whether reasonable adjustments may be necessary to enable the candidate to undertake the job.

If a disclosure is made at the point of a job offer, you should discuss with the individual the nature of the disability as it relates to the job. If the individual is happy to disclose their disability formally, you should ask them to complete the Staff Disability Disclosure Form‌.

Please see the Equal Opportunities section in Recruitment and Selection Policy for further details.

Disclosure and confidentiality

Staff do not have to disclose a disability to the University but we ask staff to carefully consider the advantages of doing so. If a member of staff discloses to you that they have a disability, but wish this to remain confidential you must adhere to this and make any agreed adjustments with the staff member that can be done without further disclosure. This may mean their individual disability-related needs are not fully met and you should discuss this with them. It is also important to keep a record of the disclosure agreement.

If the individual is happy to disclose their disability, you should ask them to complete the Staff Disability Disclosure Form‌ and refer them to the People Support team.

For a useful summary of the referral process, please see the Referral Process Flowchart for Disabled Staff.

Information relating to a person’s disability is personal and sensitive and must therefore be handled in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

Further guidance on handling disability disclosure is available from Disability Services.

Members of staff who become disabled

If a member of staff becomes disabled during the course of their employment, you should discuss this with them to ensure that:

  • All reasonable adjustments are identified and implemented to meet their disability-related needs as soon as possible
  • Any agreed reasonable adjustments to their role are made or are scheduled
  • Training is organised as appropriate or, if redeployment is to be considered

Support and advice can be provided by the People Support team, who will attend meetings and liaise with Occupational health and Disability Services as required.

Losing the skills and expertise of a member of staff who becomes disabled post-appointment is something the University wants to avoid. However, if the member of staff is unable to return to work then the People Support team will ensure that this is handled sensitively and that early retirement on the grounds of capacity or termination of employment where appropriate is processed smoothly and in full consultation with the individual.

This procedure also applies to disabled staff whose condition changes in a way that adversely affects their ability to carry out their role, once all reasonable adjustments, training and other roles with the University has been considered.

Risk Assessments and Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs)

As a manager you will need to review the risk assessments for the work undertaken by staff who have disclosed a disability following the inclusive risk assessment guidance available from Disability Service.

Such assessment should be reviewed on a regular basis.

In some cases the inclusive risk assessment will identify that you have to complete a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) for the staff member following guidance from Safety Services.

Training for line managers on undertaking inclusive risk assessments is available from Safety Services and Disability Services. Further information is also available from the Health and Safety Executive.

Disability related absence

Disabled staff may require time off to attend appointments, therapies and clinics. The University is supportive of this and allows reasonable paid time off to be granted on request. (You may request evidence of the appointment.) If appointments are frequent then you may ask the individual to make the time up or to take annual leave.


People Support team

+44 (0)1382 386999

From People
Corporate information category Disability support