Here are 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.)
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).
(*A disability is defined in the Equality Act as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. Certain serious illnesses such as cancer are automatically classed as disabilities under the Act.)
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.
This is known as ‘disability leave’ and is classed as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act (see the FAQ on reasonable adjustments). It should be recorded separately to sick leave. Your Force must consider granting reasonable requests for disability leave – note that this includes recuperative therapies and medical check-ups if you’re otherwise well and able to work.
Unison have prepared a factsheet on disability leave – this is intended for union reps, but contains useful information for anyone needing to request disability leave for themselves.
As a carer for a disabled family member or acquaintance, you are covered by the Equality Act, which states that you must not be directly discriminated against due to your association with a disability. Examples of this type of discrimination are being refused a job or otherwise being treated less favourably at work due to your caring responsibilities. Your Force should have a policy for allowing carers to apply for adjusted shifts, flexi-time or part-time working.
I’ve had to take a lot of sick leave due to a medical condition – my line manager has warned me about being placed on ‘unsatisfactory performance’ if this continues. Are they allowed to do this?
If your medical condition is classed as a disability, you are afforded protection under the Equality Act (see separate FAQ). Certain serious illnesses such as cancer are automatically classed as disabilities under the Act.
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.
I can’t carry out certain roles due to my disability/condition – I’ve heard that my salary may be cut, is this true?
The pay cut you’ve heard about is the so-called ‘X Factor’ reduction, one of the proposals put forward by Sir Tom Winsor in his review of police pay and conditions. The proposed pay reduction would apply to officers who were not ‘fully deployable’ and whose ‘limited duties’ status would adversely impact on Force resilience, with certain exemptions such as officers injured whilst carrying out policing duties. As ever, the devil is in the detail – no one can agree on how deployability and Force resilience should be tested, and in any case there is considerable resistance to implementing what has already proved to be an unpopular and controversial measure. The DPA has campaigned against X Factor since its proposal, as we believe it to be fundamentally unfair.
The good news is that no one’s pay will be cut in the near future – the advice from the Federation is for officers subject to a pay reduction of this nature to seek legal advice on their position.
I can’t pass the job-related fitness test (JRFT) due to my disability/injury – what are my options?
The following Q&A is provided by the College of Policing:
Some Forces offer different alternative tests to the 15m multi-stage fitness test (the ‘bleep test’), but only the Chester Treadmill Police Walking Test (CTPWT), and the Chester Treadmill Police Running Test (CTPRT) have been validated and approved by the College of Policing’s Professional Committee. These are treadmill tests, and involve officers walking (or running for the highest levels of the specialist posts) for proscribed periods of time. The duration of the test and incline of the treadmill is dependent on the aerobic level associated with the respective standard (matched to the aerobic standards of the 15m MSFT). The College of Policing has provided job-related fitness standards for standard roles and specialist posts.
Is it easier than the level 5.4 bleep test?
In terms of the aerobic standard required, no. Extensive research has been conducted to validate the CTPWT and CTPRT to ensure that they test officers to the same aerobic standard for recruitment, and all specialist roles. In addition to this, to improve the evidence base, the College of Policing is commissioning further research to ensure that the research that underpins the 15m MSFT is accurate.
Who is able to take the alternative test? How do they go about it?
Ultimately the decision as to how the alternative test is offered is a matter for individual Forces, but it is not expected that officers can choose which test to perform. The College of Policing advise that the decision to allow officers to perform the CTPWT or CTPRT lies with management, following referrals to and advice from Force Occupational Health Units. This is outlined in the College’s implementation guidance (see links above).
(It is important to recognise that the CTPWT and CTPRT are designed to mitigate the impact of the turning requirement of the 15m MSFT, not to enable officers to conduct the fitness test independently.)
If a disabled officer has lower limb or other issues that would prevent them from taking this test, what other options are open to them?
As of January 2018, the CTPWT and CTPRT remain the only validated tests endorsed by the College of Policing, although individual Forces may offer their own alternatives as above.
What happens if I can’t take, or fail either test?
Passing the fitness test is a requirement for all officers required to perform officer safety training (OST). Chief Officers have a duty of care to their officers to ensure that they are deployed safely, and as such, where officers cannot conduct OST, must be placed in adjusted roles. The nature and duration of the adjustments will be dependent on what reasonable adjustments can be implemented in-force.
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 separate FAQ on employment tribunals).
Unison have provided a guide to reasonable adjustments with examples for various conditions and employment tribunal case studies.
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.)
Disability Confident is the Government’s positive action scheme to encourage employers to recruit, retain and develop disabled staff. Membership of the scheme is voluntary – employers who sign up and meet the criteria can display the Disability Confident logo.
As of 2022, most police forces have joined the scheme, with the majority being at Level 2 (Disability Confident Employer) and an increasing number achieving Level 3 (Disability Confident Leader) status. Check with your local Diversity & Inclusion team to confirm whether your Force is accredited.
The Disability Confident gov.uk webpages include a list of employers participating in the scheme.
If you are considering joining as a police officer, the good news is that you are not expected to have a perfect bill of health. The police service does not place a blanket exclusion on certain disabilities/conditions – the Equality Act 2010 (superseding the Disability Discrimination 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
There are also many opportunities for joining as a member of police staff, which includes uniform roles such as Police Community Support Officers and Crime Scene Investigators. Most 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.