Disabled employee retention

Disabled people are nearly twice as likely to leave their jobs as non-disabled people.

9% of disabled people fall out of work compared to 5% of non-disabled people.

Why disabled people fall out of work

Our research found 4 themes that contribute to why disabled people find it harder to stay in work.

  • Negative attitudes and discrimination.
  • Challenges getting reasonable adjustments and the Access to Work scheme.
  • Inflexible working patterns.
  • Sick pay and return to work process issues.

Negative attitudes and discrimination at work

Disabled people experience discrimination and negative attitudes on a regular basis.

Disability discrimination is real. It happens all the time. It makes people with disabilities lives harder getting and holding a job.

54% of employers we surveyed said they had concerns over a disabled employee’s ability to do the job. This affects their decision to offer a disabled person the job.

28% of disabled people who had fallen out of work said they had experienced discrimination. Either from a line manager or colleague.

90% of disabled people who had experienced discrimination at work said it led or contributed to them leaving.

They also told us negative attitudes and behaviours harm their confidence and self-worth.

Source: Scope attitudes research.

There are other impacts for disabled people and employers.

  • Disabled people’s reluctance to tell employers about their impairment or condition.
  • Difficulty for employers to support their disabled employee

Recommendations: attitudes and discrimination


The government should increase funding for the Equality, Advisory and Support Service. This will help them to provide advice for disabled people with discrimination cases.

As well as increase funding given to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This will help them with enforcing and protecting disabled workers rights.

Cabinet Office Disability Unit

The disability unit must focus on improving attitudes towards disability at work. This should form a major part of its perception of disability campaign.

Source: New disability action plan (GOV.UK).

Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)

The DWP should create more detailed advice for employers on:

  • dealing with negative attitudes at work
  • supporting managers to have effective conversations with disabled employees
  • making openness about disability at work a more comfortable experience for disabled employees

And strengthen commitments for members of the Disability Confident scheme. Specifically:

  • employers at level 2 and 3 should meet minimum thresholds for the proportion of disabled people in their workforce.
  • remove their accreditation if they do not move from level 1 to 2 within 3 years.

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

ACAS should:

  • publish the outcomes of disability discrimination complaints that have gone through early conciliation.
  • talk to an employer if they lose a disability discrimination case at tribunal. This would be to discuss how to become more disability inclusive


Employers should:

  • set up a reverse mentoring scheme for senior and mid-level members of staff. Allowing more junior disabled employees to mentor them
  • explain to all colleagues why they collect disability data. And how it helps the organisation become a more inclusive employer
  • sign up to Scope's Workplace Disability Inclusion Programme, and
  • sign up to the Government’s Disability Confident Schemes.

Lack of reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments can make a significant difference to disabled people at work. But many find it hard to get the support they need.

My arthritis was the main reason I left my job there should have been more support for me.

48% of disabled people who fell out of work said they had problems with reasonable adjustments.

50% said they did not have all the adjustments they needed for work.

Some of the challenges faced by disabled people include:

  • delays to receiving adjustments. Some disabled people had to wait up to 4 months. Our Lives, Our Journey research study.
  • employers ignoring the importance of adjustments. 65% agreed cost was a potential barrier.
  • rejection of an adjustment request

Access to Work

The government’s Access to Work scheme is a grant to pay for adjustments. But there are problems with the scheme stopping it having a positive effect.

  • Poor awareness.
  • Delays in having an assessment, receiving equipment or both.
  • There was a 327% increase in delays in the last year (March 2021 to March 2022).
  • A cost cap on adjustments.
  • Employers disagreeing with Access to Work recommendations.
  • Lack of assistance with recruiting support workers.

Recommendations: improving Access to Work

Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)

The DWP should reform the Access to Work scheme by:

  • Allocating funding for the promotion of the scheme. They should base this on the avenues found in its recent review
  • Setting clear and achievable standards of service for Access to Work
  • Publishing the number of advisers, they employ to process Access to Work applications
  • Reviewing the training provided to Access to Work assessors and advisers
  • Make Access to Work scheme customers aware of the new Health Adjustments Passport
  • The recently announced trials for a new Access to Work enhanced package. This should include customers whose support costs exceed the current cap on costs. 
  • Publishing detailed guidance for disabled people on recruiting support workers


Employers should adopt the following ideas when designing their adjustment policies:

  • Always involve the employee when creating a reasonable adjustment
  • Aim to have the adjustment in place as close to the employee’s first day of employment as possible
  • Have a named person in the organisation who employees can contact about adjustments
  • Offer to meet the costs of Access to Work award, if delays mean the disabled employee struggles to do their job

Inflexible working patterns

Flexible working is a popular and effective adjustment. 5 in 10 employees now work flexibly in the UK.

Source: The Timewise Flexible Jobs Index 2022

I left the role because they were unable to (be) flexible about my condition… I have found that I work best from home where I can have the opportunity to rest in between tasks.

The disabled people we surveyed were broadly positive about remote or hybrid working. And the effects it had on their performance and wellbeing.

This is what disabled people said about flexible and hybrid working.

  • 75% said that it allowed them to manage their wellbeing better.
  • 71% said it gave them the ability to manage disability related illness better.
  • 75% said it location helped them to concentrate better.
  • 69% said it helped them manage workload better and deliver work within timelines.
  • 61% said it gave them the ability to work on another location with support.

Our Lives Our Journey participants have also seen improvements resulting from flexible working.

We know home working is an enabler for disabled people. Giving control over the hours worked leads to a “positive impact on their lives and subsequent health”.

Source: Starting a new job: Our Lives Our Journey

And just having that flexibility to be able to not have to spend 3 hours sat in the same position on my pressure sores, and then another, you know, 8 hours or whatever sat in the same position, so masses of time sat on pressure sore areas. That I can be lying on a sofa or lying on a bed getting my pressure sores healing has just meant that my pressure sores have started to heal for the first time in, like, 14 years, which has been amazing. So, yes, I mean, just utterly miraculous.

But, 60% of disabled people who have fallen out of work were not offered the chance to try hybrid working. Despite its positive impact for disabled workers.

A third of employers told us they do not offer a policy for working flexible hours.

Recommendations: flexible working


The Government should offer all workers the right to access flexible working. This should be from day one of employment.


Employers should explore options for implementing different flexible working policies for employees.

For example:

  • self-rostering shift work
  • matching working hours to outputs
  • flexible hours and location

Sickness and inflexible return to work processes

The minimum rate for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is £109.40 a week. This is far too low for disabled people to live on.

Source: Statutory Sick Pay (GOV.UK).

I felt I had no choice but to leave because I was being treated differently after having to take some time off and reduce my hours due to my disability.

A quarter of disabled people told us they would not be able to cope on the minimum rate of sick pay. 36% thought they would not last a month.

Disabled people who work for employers with inadequate SSP policies, risk financial hardship. Currently, only 28% of employers pay above the minimum rate for SSP. Which could cover a considerable number of disabled people.

Source: Sickness absence and health in the workplace (GOV.UK).

Disabled people told us they feel pressure to continue working or return to work early.

75% of disabled people felt the need to work through a period of ill-health, against medical advice.

This risks longer periods of sick leave further down the line. Which in turn can push disabled people out of work. There is a strong link between long-term sick leave and leaving work. 

74% of disabled people who left a job took at least 4 weeks off due to their condition or impairment.

Inflexibility and returning to work

At present SSP is not paid part time or in combination with earnings.

This means that disabled people cannot receive SSP during a phased return to work. Causing disabled people to fall out of work.

64% left voluntarily after a period of sick leave.

24% of disabled people forced out of their job due to taking time off work.

A phased return to work is an effective way to get disabled people back into the workplace.

Disabled people we have spoken to were positive about going back to work on reduced hours.

Recommendations: improving Sick Pay

Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)

The DWP must introduce a fairer sick pay system. This would:

  • remove waiting day
  • pay at an hourly rate and in line with the Living Wage
  • make sick pay available to all employee
  • increase availability to 52 weeks a year, instead of 28
  • support reduced working hours as part of an agreed phased return to work


Employers should introduce disability leave for their disabled staff. Allowing them to take time off for medical appointments or recover from illness.

The Disability Employment Endowment Fund

We are calling for Government to create a Disability Employment Endowment Fund.

The fund would provide multi-year investments. Which employers can use to test new approaches to tackling the disability employment gap. For example, in-work support programmes.

The focus is on unlocking new programmes to stimulate the retention of disabled people at work. By doing so, it will:

  • accelerate the closure of the disability employment gap
  • help address the UK skills gap