18 May 2022
In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic PFEW observers are increasingly realising many barriers that disabled police officers faced in trying to remain at work, disappeared overnight and are now returning.
At this year’s PFEW Annual Conference in Manchester, the sensitive issue of absence due to Long Term Sickness attracting Unsatisfactory Performance and Attendance Procedures (UPP), faced by police officers in England and Wales, was also discussed amongst other sensitive concerns.
Addressing a packed room during one of the breakout sessions on the second day of the conference, PFEW National Board Member Ian Saunders said cases of disability discrimination are not in isolation but at the centre of it is mechanical functioning adopted by line managers.
He said: “Line managers unlawfully discriminate against colleagues with disability absence on their record by using UPP.
"Even though unlawful, line managers are serving written improvement notices and asking colleagues to report to work against or without medical advice. UPP is not designed to manage disability related absences.”
Mr Saunders said in cases of disability absence, it is important to follow adjusted duties procedures which allows for a discussion between the police officer and the manager so reasonable adjustments can be carried out to ensure the officer continues working.
These views were supported by PFEW’s In-House Legal Solicitor Eleanor Porter, who said line managers must refer to the Equality Act while dealing with disabled officers.
Sharing her observations based on a case study, she said following UPP in cases of disability, especially due to mental health conditions, can prove detrimental as it can aggravate the mental health condition and jeopardise the officer’s prospects of returning to full service.
She said: “The discretion to initiate UPP must be appreciated as most regulations that follow are mandatory. However, there is nothing to stop the line manager from using their discretionary powers.
“What is really required, for an informed decision to be taken in a case of long-term absence through disability, is a process that requires medical evidence as to whether there is any prospect of the officer returning to work, in what capacity and consultation with the officer about the options, including alternative work, medical discharge and termination.”
Providing guidance to officers with disability facing UPP, she said they should first request for reasonable adjustments that would assist them to return to work. She added: “Officers should invite their manager to reconsider and ensure they understand the discretionary powers enjoyed by them under UPP.
"They should also seek inputs and advice from the force’s occupational health expert on the proposed return to work plan.
“Be mindful of time limits if you are discriminated against because of your disability and would prefer to file a claim.”