While society sees employment as the key to social membership, the assumption that employees with disabilities are of less productive worth leads to stigmatization and discrimination. This article uses data from the British Workplace Behaviour Survey, which found that employees with disabilities and long-term illnesses were more likely to suffer ill-treatment in the workplace and experienced a broader range of ill-treatment. It recognizes that the assumed lack of productive worth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people with disabilities are ill-treated within the workplace, this will have a similar effect. Drawing on the existing literature, four possible explanations for ill-treatment are considered. The survey provides support for the social approach, which suggests that it is not people’s impairments that make them less productive but the way work is organized within a set of social relations.
The 2010 Equality Act may do something to address ill-treatment by clients and customers but, unless a way is found to increase the influence of the social model on the behaviour of managers and employers, they will remain resistant to the notion that any ‘provision, criterion or practice’ in their organization should be applied in a different way to different employees. It is the social model that shows managers they are not giving some employees preferential treatment when they do this but removing barriers which prevent some employees from making an equal contribution.
There are few quantitative studies that show the workplace is experienced in a different way by employees with disabilities. This article fills this gap using data from the British Workplace Behaviour Survey, which found that employees with disabilities and long-term illnesses were more likely to suffer ill-treatment in the workplace and experienced a broader range of ill-treatment. Different types of disability were associated with different types of ill-treatment. The survey also showed who employees with disabilities blamed for their ill-treatment and why they believed the ill-treatment had occurred. Drawing on the existing literature, four possible explanations for ill-treatment are considered: negative affect raises perceptions of ill-treatment; ill-treatment leads to health effects; ill-treatment results from stigma or discrimination; ill-treatment is a consequence of workplace social relations. Although some of these explanations are stronger than others, the discussion shows that more research is required in order to decide between them.
Fevre, R., Robinson, A., Lewis, D., & Jones, T. (2013). The ill-treatment of employees with disabilities in British workplaces Work, Employment & Society, 27 (2), 288-307 DOI: 10.1177/0950017012460311