Here some of the questions we’re frequently asked. This page is a work in progress – follow us on Twitter for updates on new Q&As as we add them.
If you have any ideas for questions and/or answers to include, get in touch with us via the Contact page.
Important! – if you need advice on employment law, speak to a solicitor, Federation or union rep – they are qualified to advise you on legal matters.
A Disability Support Network (DSN) is a voluntary staff support group, usually run independently of the employer by an organisation’s employees. A support network represents the interests of its members – in the case of DSNs, these are employees who are disabled, ill or injured, carers for others, or those with an interest in such matters. In policing, membership of a DSN is open to serving officers, police staff, volunteers and in some cases those who have retired from service.
DSNs may be run by a single volunteer or team, typically a network Chair with an Executive Committee, drawn from all ranks, grades and roles.
As staff networks represent the interests, concerns and opinions of people with a protected characteristic, network leads are usually able to raise concerns and suggested workplace improvements with the Chief Constable and senior officers on behalf of the membership. Some DSNs also offer direct peer-to-peer support or signposting to members to provide support, advice and guidance for a range of matters, including specific health conditions and rights under the Equality Act, such as the application of reasonable adjustments. DSNs are an effective resource for advice and support, and champion organisational and cultural change.
The role of a DSN is not to replace the professional employment advice offered by the Police Federation or police unions, but is supplementary to these services, often working in conjunction to provide advice and guidance from a view point of ‘lived experience’. DSNs don’t provide legal advice – this should be sought in consultation with the Police Federation or your union.
Why doesn’t my Force have a disability support network? Where can I go to for help with my disability/condition?
If there is no DSN within your Force, it is likely that a previous network has become dormant or there has been a shortage of volunteers to set up a new network. If you or a colleague are considering setting up a DSN, the DPA can provide you with advice and support – get in touch with us for more details.
If you don’t have an active DSN in your Force, you can always get confidential advice from your Force’s Occupational Health and Welfare departments. The Federation and police unions are also on hand to advise on employment law in relation to your disability/condition, and there are a variety of other support groups and charities which can assist you. (For example, the National Police Autism Association provides direct support for autism and other neurodiverse conditions within the police service.)
The DPA can help with individual queries, however be aware that we receive many requests for assistance and there may be a delay in replying to you. You should always contact your Force DSN in the first instance. Click on the Contact page for more details.
We recommend that you register as a member of the DPA – it’s free and you will get access to regular disability and wellbeing-related updates and news.
The Equality Act 2010 provides legal protection for disability as a protected characteristic, along with age, gender reassignment, race, religion/belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage/civil partnership, and pregnancy/maternity. The Act states that employees (including Special Constables and police cadets, who are regarded as employees for the purposes of the EA) must not be treated unfavourably at work due to their identification or association with any of these characteristics. An employee or candidate who believes they have been subject to unlawful discriminatory behaviour by an employer may seek redress at an Employment Tribunal (see separate FAQ).
We’d like to say “yes” every time, however we realise that things aren’t always that simple. Disclosing your condition means that your manager has the opportunity to put reasonable adjustments in place for you, and to generally be supportive and understanding of your needs. Your Force can also make allowances if your condition impacts on your performance at work, or causes you to take sick leave. However, there have been cases of staff being treated badly due to a disability (the DPA exists for a reason!) and there is still a stigma around certain conditions – some people would rather keep their disability or condition private. If you’re uncertain about whether to disclose, we recommend that you discuss with your local DSN, a Federation or union rep, or a trusted colleague.
I’ve had to take a lot of time off work due to my disability/condition – my line manager has warned me about being placed on ‘unsatisfactory performance’ if this continues. Are they allowed to do this?
This depends on whether you actually have a disability – defined in the Equality Act as something which impacts on your day-to-day life (a full definition can be found here). Certain serious medical conditions such as cancer are automatically classed as disabilities.
Performance management measures are the first stage in the unsatisfactory performance process (UPP), which can ultimately result in an employee losing their job. The answer to the question “Can I be dismissed due to having a disability?” is a firm “No” – your Force should make efforts to find you a role to which you are suited, although if you are unable to work at all, you may be put forward for medical retirement.
Of course, there are many other conditions which are not disabilities but can still result in time having to be taken off work, and the question of being subject to UPP due to sickness is something of a ‘grey area’ which has featured in many employment tribunals. You should be referred to Occupational Health to discuss how your condition affects you, and your line managers will be given advice and recommendations on your condition and the roles you can undertake. We recommend you discuss the details of your case with your Federation or union rep – both bodies have extensive experience of dealing with sickness-related UPP.
Occupational Health recommended a reasonable adjustment/change of role for me, but management have refused it. What can I do?
This is a common sticking point for anyone needing adjustments at work due to their condition. Reasonable adjustments have to be balanced with the needs of the organisation – a state-of-the-art razor-thin Macbook may help with your dyslexia, but so might a notebook with coloured paper and changing the Windows theme on your computer profile – guess which one your Force is more likely to agree to? The problem comes when a refusal to implement a change at work or to consider reasonable alternatives causes you hardship, which can have a knock-on effect in your personal life. In the case of disabilities, this may fall foul of the Equality Act, which clearly states that an employee may not be treated less favourably due to a disability. The Act also places an explicit obligation on employers to implement reasonable adjustments to assist with the recruitment and employment of disabled staff.
In the first instance, we would suggest contacting your Federation or union rep, and trying to negotiate with your line management, perhaps with the involvement of Occ Health or an external consultant to reinforce your case for reasonable adjustments or change of role. Failing this, consider using the grievance procedure – all cases are recorded by HR and are subject to scrutiny. Legal action should only be considered as a last resort (see the Q&A on employment tribunals).
I’m thinking of taking my Force to an employment tribunal due to their poor treatment of my disability – what advice can you give me?
The first point that we must make is that we cannot give legal advice, but we can signpost you to others who are qualified to provide legal assistance.
Making a claim to an employment tribunal should be considered carefully. If you haven’t done so already, speak to your Federation or union rep, and seek legal advice (your rep may be able to arrange this).
A few things to consider (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Prior to bringing an ET, you should have given your Force the opportunity to put things right – the grievance process is there to help resolve disputes
- As of July 2017, there is no fee for bringing a case to an ET
- Legal aid is not available to pay for a solicitor to represent you at an ET, however the Federation or your union may fund your legal fees, depending on the merits of your case
- An ET will be a stressful experience – you can expect your Force to vigorously contest your case, and to raise any performance, integrity or disciplinary issues, which will become part of the public record (see below)
- If you win your case, any award of compensation is likely to be in the region of a few months’ salary, dependent on the nature of the case – i.e. not a life-changing amount
- A Force does not have to acknowledge wrongdoing in the event of losing an ET, and may appeal the judgement
- Your Force may offer to settle your case out-of-court – this is usually on a “no liability” basis
- ET proceedings and rulings are in the public domain – the ET may be reported in the press, and in the age of the internet, all details including your name will be available online in perpetuity for anyone to see. (Anonymity is granted for certain cases, but this is not an automatic right.)
That depends on the disability or condition – you are not expected to have a perfect bill of health to be a police officer. The good news is that the police service does not place a blanket exclusion on certain disabilities/conditions – the Disability Discrimination Act (superseded by the Equality Act) requires that each medical issue should be considered on its merits. That said, a disability or condition that prevents a candidate from undertaking a significant part of the role of police officer is unlikely to be accepted.
We recommend getting in touch with the Recruitment Department of the Force you’re interested in joining to discuss your particular disability/condition. Bear in mind that different Forces may interpret the guidelines differently – some Forces may accept medical conditions that others reject.
The following Government webpage may be useful:
National recruitment standards – medical standards for police recruitment
Some police forces are accredited under the Disability Confident scheme, which means that they actively encourage applications from the disabled community and support career progression for disabled members of staff. Look for the Disability Confident logo on the Force’s website.
The Government’s Disability Confident webpages include a list of employers that have signed up to the scheme. As of the 16th November 2017, 35 out of 48 UK police forces are shown as having achieved Disability Confident accreditation. Of these, Derbyshire, Dyfed-Powys, Police Scotland and Staffordshire have achieved ‘Committed’ (Level 1) accreditation – the rest are ‘Employer’ (Level 2) accredited.
Police forces that are not yet listed as participating in the Disability Confident scheme are:
- British Transport Police
- City of London Police
- Civil Nuclear Constabulary
- Humberside Police
- Lincolnshire Police
- Metropolitan Police
- Ministry of Defence Police
- Northumbria Police
- Police Service of Northern Ireland
- Surrey Police
- Thames Valley Police
- West Midlands Police
- Wiltshire Police