Disability in the workplace
17 March 2020
We are supporting and encouraging law firms to promote disability inclusion in the workplace and working to change attitudes about disability in the profession.
Disability can affect any one of us, one in four people will be affected by mental ill health in the course of their life (Source: Mind) and 83 percent of people will acquire their disability whilst in employment (source: Department of Work and Pensions).
We spoke to firms about their commitment to disability inclusion and asked them to tell us about the initiatives and support they have in their firm. We produced a report setting out good practice and ways in which firms can promote disability inclusive workplaces. This includes communicating with staff and clients about adjustments they may need.
We also sent out a questionnaire which more than 420 law firms responded to. We found 96% had an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy but only 20% had an action plan to promote disability inclusion. 13% had disability staff support networks in place with 6% of these staff networks led by senior leaders.
We held several workshops – finding that an inclusive workplace supports people to talk openly about disability.
We know disability status is under reported across law firms – only 3% of lawyers declared they had a disability in 2019, compared to 13% of the workforce in the UK. Our aim is to bring disability to the forefront of people's minds and to foster a good working environment to make sure people are provided with the support they need to participate and achieve their full potential.
The resources below provide information for firms looking to improve inclusion. This includes a good practice report, case studies and videos on how firms have addressed the barriers some people face.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner ("BCLP") is deeply committed to Diversity & Inclusion, supported by well-established programs and leadership engagement.
BCLP’s formal disability inclusion journey started in 2017 with the formation of their Disability Network, which aims to support staff with, or who have a connection with, a disability.
What did they do
BCLP’s Disability Network:
- launched an executive story-telling campaign, where members shared personal stories across the firm to show how disability can affect people’s lives;
- developed its ‘Beyond’ strategy, setting goals to address stigma and develop more inclusive offerings and people processes;
- sought expert insight from organisations such as the Business Disability Forum and PurpleSpace; and
- hosted firm-wide events to raise awareness, including with speakers such as James Cracknell, Dr Amit Patel (with his guide dog Kika), and theatre company ‘Access All Areas’.
What impact has the Network had
The Network is spearheaded by two Partner Champions and several junior lawyers, who have sought to make sure that disability is on the firm’s leadership agenda and considered across the entirety of the business.
Disability is now a key element of BCLP’s Diversity & Inclusion strategy and the Network, open to all staff, continues to work to address the firm’s areas for improvement with authenticity and ambition.
BCLP wants to continue to increase its understanding of best practice in the disability space, from embracing neurodiversity to procuring innovative products and everything in between.
"BCLP are committed to ensuring that those affected by disability are able to thrive and fulfil their potential. As Partner Champions for the firm's Disability Network, we recognise how important it is to create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking openly about disability. Our Disability Network have acted as a catalyst for change at BCLP – informing and driving the firm's approach to disability"
Elizabeth Hicks and Tessa Kimber, BCLP Disability Partner Champions
As a small law firm, Belcher Frost work to provide the best possible support for their employees, which in turn gives their clients the service they need.
What did they do
- Worked with people to make sure they get the best out of them and meet their needs.
- Introduced an open-door policy, where they encourage people to come and speak to us about any issues and concerns they may have.
- Accommodated a diverse range of working patterns, which means colleagues want to stay with them and that their valuable skills and experiences have helped to increase their bottom line.
Provide training on disability and mental health.
"Belcher Frost is committed to working with its staff to ensure that everyone is comfortable in their working environment. This, in turn, leads to staff who are confident in their work and provides clients with an excellent service."
Sara Lloyd, Practice Manager
Ellis Jones Solicitors recognise the legal profession can be extremely pressured when dealing with clients and colleagues at very stressful times in their lives. They are therefore committed to raising awareness about mental health and supporting our staff.
What did they do
- Raised awareness amongst staff by promoting World Mental Health Day
- Invited staff to share experiences of mental ill health through the monthly staff newsletter
- Highlighted the help available to staff, for example from LawCare, a charity that promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community
- Put in place processes to monitor sickness absences and support staff on their return to work
- Put up posters and information around offices to raise awareness on mental health and wellbeing
- Trained managers and staff on mental health wellbeing
Working towards training mental health first aiders in all offices.
"Putting forward my own experience of, let's say, less than good mental health I feel that Ellis Jones handled the situation very well. At the time in question, I was going through a time, both at work and at home, where I had nothing more to give and succumbed to burn out – complete physical and emotional exhaustion"
Ellis Jones Solicitors employee
Kuits has an inclusive approach and supports a culture where people feel they can be open and be the best they can be. In 2019, the firm was named Regional Employer of the Year across all sectors by the British Chambers of Commerce and was shortlisted for a national corporate culture award.
What did they do
- Signed up to the employer Time to Change Pledge and set out several actions, including how they would achieve and demonstrate senior level buy-in.
- When launching this, they invited team members to witness their management team publicly sign a pledge board. This showcases their aims to promote mental wellness within the business and create a supportive and safe environment to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues.
- Trained all their line managers on mental health awareness. Their 11 wellbeing champions received additional training to help them to support colleagues who may feel in need of peer support.
- Ran a campaign for World Mental Health Week, with daily initiatives that included a lunchtime walk and meditation sessions.
- Support physical wellbeing by providing weekly fruit baskets.
- Revised their assessment centre exercises for trainee solicitors by using formats such as speed dating to ensure each candidate met with each assessor on an individual basis.
Continue to improve our recruitment processes to further encourage applications from a diverse range of candidates.
"Mental health problems affect one in four people, yet many are still afraid to talk about these issues, especially in work. We hope that other law firms will see what we are doing here and get on board with this initiative, and we would be happy to talk to any firms looking to do so."
Alison Pearse, Head of HR
Leigh Day is a top 100 ranked law firm specialising in human rights, employment, personal injury and clinical negligence law. The firm is committed to raising awareness of mental health disabilities and to removing any associated stigma.
What did they do
- Set up a wellbeing committee to focus on mental health issues
- Trained two HR Managers as mental health first aiders
- Organised a week of themed activities to mark Mental Health Awareness Week
- Relaunched their dedicated Employee Assistance helpline
- Distributed information firm-wide about mental health support organisations
- Promoted LawCare, a dedicated source of support for law firm staff
- Circulated guidance on diet, exercise and sleep
- Invited a speaker from leading mental health charity MIND to talk to staff
- Communicated the importance of good work/life balance
They will provide training in resilience, designed to help senior employees manage their own stress and to spot the symptoms in their teams. They will also be launching new stress management and mentoring policies and delivering training.
"Leigh Day is committed to supporting colleagues with mental health issues and to demystifying this whole area. We will do all we can to encourage those with mental health concerns to come forward so we can provide support and adjustments.."
Fiona Allen, HR Director
Shoosmiths recognises the importance of having a diverse workforce. They foster an inclusive culture where colleagues feel valued and able to perform to the best of their abilities.
What did they do
- Developed line manager guidance about how to support individuals with a disability or health condition, recognising the vital role managers have in ensuring all colleagues are able to perform their role and make a full contribution in the workplace
- Asked colleagues to share their personal experiences of working at Shoosmiths to bring greater visibility to disability within the firm
- Gained recognition as a Disability Confident Employer
- Focused on changing the discourse around mental health
- Creating a workplace free from mental health stigma by signing the Time to Change Pledge
- Set up a national network of Mental Health and Wellbeing Champions tasked with raising awareness of mental health, endorsing positive mental health and tackling the stigma
- Introduced a mental health and wellbeing policy and line manager guidance tools on supporting team members suffering from mental health issues
- Launched a mindfulness course so all employees can learn, practise and enjoy the benefits of mindfulness training
- Developed dedicated mental health pages on their intranet to provide staff with access to information and support resources
- Worked with occupational psychologists to get a real picture of levels of employee's emotional engagement, wellbeing and resilience
- Continuing to move forward with their mental health initiatives, including encouraging senior staff to share their personal experiences of mental health issues
- Rolling out a course which supports colleagues in developing their own 'My wellbeing' strategy
Sintons take a lead on wellbeing in the workplace and create a culture where people feel valued and can speak up about mental health. This in turn leads to a healthy and engaging work environment, which helps them deliver an excellent service to their clients.
What did they do
- Delivered mental health awareness training for partners and helped kick start conversations about mental health
- Supported 'Time to Talk Day', to encourage everyone to talk about mental health.
- Held a 'Techniques for balancing everyday life' session, giving an overview of positive and negative stresses in our lives and how we manage that, as well as how to improve sleep quality
- Provide information in their monthly newsletters that gives guidance about mental health and wellbeing
- Have trained several Mental Health First Aiders
- Organised events, such as Miles in March campaign, when everyone clocked as many miles as possible, through cycling, walking, swimming and running
- Promoted 'Random Acts of Kindness Week', as evidence suggests that helping others is beneficial to your own mental health and wellbeing
- Hold pilates and other wellbeing sessions during lunch
- Raising awareness through lunch time sessions, such as dementia or menopause
- Provide health checks and flu jabs in the workplace
"A law firm can be a busy and high-pressured environment to work in, so we make sure our team feel supported, and have access to help if and when they need it. Our commitment is something that runs throughout the business, with our managing partner and senior team playing an active role in leading on this."
Claire Atkins, Head of HR
Slater Heelis provide adjustments and support to all their staff, working to make sure anyone with a disability feel included in an office environment
They have close links with a local charity that specialises in supporting people with visual impairments.
What did they do
- Provide a work experience programme which offers placements to disabled people.
- Supported work experience placements with career guidance and information about paths into law.
- Raise awareness of disability and mental health through shared articles and links on their intranet.
Provide training to staff.
"We were delighted to be able to offer our time to support our placements and provide staff with an understanding of disability in the workplace. This has been a very positive experience for us all."
Chris Bishop, Managing Partner
TLT cares about ensuring that all employees are enabled to perform to the best of their ability. When employees are enabled, they are empowered, and this helps to maximise engagement, innovation and performance.
They understand that being enabled looks different for everyone and different employees have a diverse range of needs at varying times.
Disabled employees can experience setbacks more often than others – either due to rigid work practices, unsuitable environments or ill-equipped offices, for example – none of which serve to unlock one's true potential.
What did they do
- Launched an 'Enabled Employee' scheme giving employees who require specialist assistance through their journey as recruits, trainees and employees a clear understanding of what support is available.
- Identified that confidence and knowing who to speak to were potential barriers to people getting the support they needed to reach their full potential.
- The scheme provides support at the job application stage by encouraging individuals to let TLT know what their needs are.
- It could mean providing a third person in the room to mediate the relationship between the individual and their manager if requested.
- The scheme supports managers to recognise the signs that someone is struggling – such as work performance or increased absences – and offer a helping hand to get them back on track.
- Encourage more employees who require this support to come forward.
- Raise awareness of the support available so that they continue to create a workplace that accepts people for who they are and deliver the best possible outcomes for their employees and the business.
"Enabled Employee ensures that the needs of disabled employees and employees with health conditions don't get missed or overlooked in amongst the everyday demands of the firm because they don't know what support is available and don't have the confidence to engage or clear lines of communication. We are dedicated to providing support and the resources necessary to help everyone to perform at their best, including by putting clear processes like this in place.
Enabled Employee Scheme co-ordinator Joshua Larcombe
Watch our videos about disability in the workplace
Fadeia HossianFinancial Regulation Lawyer Clifford Chance
Why it is important for employers to support their staff.
Daniel WinterfeldtPartner, Reed Smith LLP
How employers need to focus on talent not disabilities.
Katherine RamoTechnology, Media, IP, Competition, Associate, CMS UK
Why leading from the top is essential when being an inclusive employer.
Jonathan KewleyPartner, Clifford Chance
Why good communication plays an important part of being an inclusive employer.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission have produced a guide on Reasonable adjustments in practice.