(Un)reasonable adjustments?

A woman writing

Our guest writer today is a Manchester-based public sector project manager, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“So whether music or madness, live by one of the two” Nick Mulvey: Fever to the Form

Before I get into the substance of this blog, does anyone else have a favourite song they play on repeat when going through a challenging time? Fever to the Form has been my anthem for the last few months as I navigated the exhausting process of raising a grievance against my line manager. I have played this song at extremely high volume in my car, in my kitchen and through headphones trying to immerse myself in its therapeutic sounds. Because of what happened in terms of my grievance, this song will remain important to me for the foreseeable. Whenever I felt that I wanted to give up on the grievance process, this song was my melancholy solace and drove me on.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to tell my grievance story as a blog for Result CIC. I’m finding it cathartic to be able to tell of my experience to an audience who will ‘get it’. I also hope that it may help anyone else in a similar situation. Bear with me, as what starts out as a very negative experience does become more positive!

First of all, some context regarding my personal situation. I became disabled during lockdown, following hip revision surgery in July 2020. For those who don’t know, hip revision surgery is the replacement of an existing hip replacement. I’d had my original one done in 2006 at age 40, following a history of arthritis. The original surgery was a life-changer in the most joyous way. Having struggled with chronic hip pain for years, my 2006 surgery gifted me a new lease of life and I seized every opportunity to go out to gigs and/or dance the night away – my favourite activities. However, years later I got an NHS letter headed “Product Recall” with the code for my metal-on-metal prosthetic, as if it were a dodgy pot of hummus that I could return to Tesco. I was subsequently listed for hip revision surgery in July 2020. The short version (pun not intended) of that surgery is that there were ‘complications’. The original spike in my thigh bone had snapped, so the surgeon had to break my leg to be able to remove it. This resulted in me having a longer spike put in during the revision, one leg now being 4.5cm shorter than the other, ongoing chronic pain with regular bouts of more acute pain just to add some extra spice to the mix, and sciatica from the leg discrepancy. I haven’t gone to gigs or danced much since.

In terms of work, I didn’t fully understand the impact of all of this as I was working from home (as most of us were) in my public sector role as a Project Manager. I also switched jobs during this time but the new role was also working from home. However, when that role ended, I got a new job in January 2023 working for a local authority, and this role required me to be office based for roughly two days a week. I declared my disability at the application stage as well as during the interview, and made it clear that I would need reasonable adjustments (RA’s) in the form of a specialist chair and footrests. I also pointed out that these RA’s were key to both my physical and mental wellbeing. I had become quite socially isolated due to my disability, and felt that being able to work in an office base was hugely important in terms of providing an opportunity to see other people. Also, of course, the best work conversations take place over a coffee or at the end of meetings!

On appointment to the job, I did not hear anything from HR or my new line manager about my RA’s, despite emailing them. So, on my first day at the office in January 2023, I raised the issue with my manager. I got no response. I raised it again. The response this time was that I should find out for myself who I needed to speak to in Health & Safety. This seemed odd but, as there was no information on the employee intranet about the process for RA’s, that’s what I did. The person I spoke to gave me contact details for a specialist equipment supplier. I contacted them but the earliest appointment they could offer to do a workplace assessment was at the end of March. I informed my line manager and was met with an eye-roll and told to work from home as much as possible. Looking back, this clearly wasn’t acceptable, but hindsight will get you every time. I was new in a role where I wanted to be successful, new to being disabled in the workplace, and was already experiencing the feeling of not wanting to be a problem to my employer. I had the workplace assessment at the end of March and then – radio silence. I chased them for their report but got no response. I asked my manager to escalate it – yes you guessed it, no response. I could feel myself becoming increasingly stressed with huge mood dips. I saw my GP about my pain levels in mid-April, but broke down during the appointment, explained the situation, and he signed me off work and told me I should not return until my RA’s were in place. I returned to work at the end of May because I was worried about being absent as a relatively new employee. However, I discovered that my manager had done nothing about my RA’s in my absence. I didn’t just feel undervalued, I felt not valued at all. At this point I decided that my only option was to raise a formal grievance as all informal attempts to resolve the situation had not been successful. The grounds for my grievance were (a) they had failed to provide RA’s and (b) that they had put me on half pay due to the length of my absence even though my illness was caused by their failure to act on RA requirements under the Equality Act 2010. I lasted roughly two weeks back at work before again feeling too mentally unwell to continue in my role, not least prompted by having to switch my camera off in meetings as I’d burst into tears.

I had an initial hearing about my grievance where I set out my position. I was so anxious beforehand that I had to take beta blockers to stay calm. HR and a Service Head then spoke to my line manager. I was sent a copy of my line manager’s statement, which ranged from untruths (to put it diplomatically) to them being ‘unable to recall’ various aspects of what had happened. This felt hugely insulting. I was then sent a grievance response saying that they upheld my grievance for the first few weeks of my absence but that it was rejected after that as the reasonable adjustment of working from home all of the time had been offered. I then submitted an appeal to their grievance outcome. For me, permanently working from home was not a suitable or acceptable reasonable adjustment and failed to address the impact on my mental wellbeing as well as not feeling any sense of belonging to my team or feeling valued as an employee.

In the meantime, my specialist chair and footrests were delivered and I returned to work able, FINALLY, to do so in relative comfort.

I waited nervously for the appeal hearing. Having said that, I also had a moment of absolute clarity where I realised that I had to be true to my values and stand up for myself. The day of the grievance appeal arrived. I’d agreed for it to be in person at the office base. I wanted to look these people directly in the eye as I set out the grounds for my appeal. During this meeting I discovered that my line manager had been emailed by HR before the start of my employment detailing the procedures to be followed when on-boarding a disabled employee. They had stated that they ‘didn’t recall’ receiving this email. It became clear that what should have happened was the completion of a ‘Work and Wellbeing Passport’ (including RA’s), a risk assessment and a personal evacuation plan. None of this had been completed. I stated to the appeal panel that the line manager’s failure was completely unacceptable, but also that, had HR advised me as the employee of the policies and procedures which were to be followed, I would have been in an informed position to chase this up myself. As it was, I’d been left totally in the dark, particularly as there was no guidance on the intranet for employees.

A few days ago I had the outcome meeting for the grievance appeal. The panel found completely in my favour. My full wage has been reinstated for the period of my absences, which is a huge relief. I was given a heartfelt apology and thanked for my input on HR policies. But what is more important to me is the following, because these measures should ensure that no-one else has to go through what I went through:

  • HR processes have been changed on the basis of my appeal hearing. Disabled new employees will now be included in all communications around the on-boarding processes. HR will also chase up line managers with timely reminders of the process and will monitor this

 

  • Line managers across my organisation have all been sent information reminding them about the need to complete Work and Wellbeing Passports, risk assessments and personal evacuation plans for new starters, and to ensure that these are already in place for existing colleagues. This has also been shared on the staff intranet


Since the appeal hearing, I’ve taken some time to reflect on how this has actually made me feel. I am thankful that the hearing was held on a Friday so that I had the weekend to take it all in, rather than having to go back into work mode straight afterwards. As soon as the hearing finished I’m not ashamed to say that I burst into tears – happiness, relief and frustration combined I think. On Friday night I put my favourite playlist on my kitchen speaker and did a mix of stool based dancing and actual dancing. I’ve always been community-minded and I’m delighted that they’ve changed their HR processes. My own main feeling is of relief that I’ve finally been actively heard and listened to. I feel validated and the impact of that shouldn’t be underestimated. It still feels a little frustrating that I had to go through the grievance process to ‘just’ get a chair, but I’m glad that I did and proud of myself for not leaving, which would have meant they got away with it and no lessons would’ve been learned. Lastly, I was given a choice with regard to either staying with my line manager or getting a new one. I chose the latter. Not because I’m nervous about working with the old one, which I’ll still need to do some of the time, but for my own peace of mind. I’m not sure that I’ll ever discuss the grievance with my old line manager. But who knows, I’m known for being quite vocal so watch this space.

Thank you for reading to then end. I told you it got better eventually!

 
 

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