Why we need Reasonable Adjustment Passports
I work in the prison service and I deal with my colleagues’ workplace disability issues on a regular basis. Reasonable Adjustment Passports have become a vital part of my work.
Violence against prison officers is rising at a striking rate. Around 9,000 staff are assaulted every year. That means today alone roughly 25 prison service workers will be attacked just for doing their job.
Some of those assaults will result in lifelong disabilities. And that’s why the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) – sadly – has good reason to support the introduction of Reasonable Adjustment Passports.
Reasonable Adjustment Passports make working life better and fairer for disabled people. They set out clearly what adjustments an employer has agreed to make. They give disabled people confidence they won’t be put under continued scrutiny. And they stop the discrimination and harassment that leaves 945,970 disabled people dropping out of work every year.
Why are passports a good idea?
10 years ago, a prison officer I know was declared disabled after suffering an injury at work. And as a result, she developed a degenerative spinal condition which affects her mobility and leaves her in constant pain.
At work, the condition affects her ability to repeatedly climb stairs as it exacerbates her underlying pain, causes fatigue and would result in her needing to take sickness absence.
For the first couple of years the management team did not question her capability. But then they required her to do additional duties which would involve repeated stair climbing, something she explained was impossible due to her disability.
Over the next eight years she had a cycle of different line managers who all questioned her capability to do her job. She was referred to occupational health five times. And each time she received a report back saying she was able to climb stairs, just not repetitively all day.
The reports always suggested her mobility requirements could be accommodated as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act after a workplace assessment.
None of her managers would agree to this. Instead the matter was dropped – until the next manager came along and raised concerns and sent her back to occupational health again.
Despite this, she continued doing the same work as before, taking no disability-related absence – and was even nominated for the award Prison Officer of the Year three times.
What difference would a passport have made to her?
Managers repeatedly sending her to occupational health caused her untold unnecessary anxiety and stress. She felt harassed and undermined at work through no fault of her own.
And it was a waste of time. Each new occupational health report reiterated what had been said the time before – 18 months previously, three years previously, four years previously – that managers should accommodate her mobility requirements and implement a risk assessment.
Finally – after eight long years and with continued support from the POA – she had a “Workplace Adjustment Passport” put in place, which was officially agreed and signed off by both management and herself.
What’s work like now with the passport in place?
It’s been a game-changer. She is delighted to finally have an official agreed document which clearly outlines what her employer has approved to put in place by way of reasonable adjustment. She has faith it will prevent any further scrutiny of her capability due to being disabled by the workplace – and is relieved that she won’t be sent back to occupational health if her manager changes.
If this prison officer had a passport put in place originally, she would have been spared eight long years of stress and uncertainty.
Paul Meekin, Prison Officers Association