Securing reasonable adjustments with help from a rep

It was only after he sought assistance from a Prospect rep that Malcolm was able to secure reasonable adjustments, which saved him from being forced into retirement.

A scientist with a major UK research council, Malcolm was worried he was being forced into retirement on medical grounds. It felt to him like there had been a prolonged campaign to oust him from his job, despite legislation designed to assist employees like him.

Malcolm has lived with epilepsy since an early age, though generally his condition has been well controlled for many years.

After graduating from Edinburgh University with a degree in geology, he worked as a member of a geological mapping team, a job that he enjoyed and was well suited to.

However, in 2005, he was transferred to a research unit where his job demanded considerable computer programming expertise and data processing knowledge: areas in which he had little experience.

Malcolm struggled with these tasks as a result of the side effects of the medication he takes to control his epilepsy, which impair his judgement and memory.

He was sent on a two-day programming course, which he found insufficient and difficult to manage, only serving to damage further his self-confidence.

He says: “The company expected me to fulfil duties I wasn’t capable of, such as writing computer programs. My line manager knew I struggled with this.”

Consequently, his performance was adversely affected to the extent that colleagues had to help him with or take over tasks with which he was struggling.

After a while his line manager issued him with a written warning, gave him a list of tasks to complete, including programming, and instructed him to write a weekly report on his progress.

This put additional pressure on Malcolm, creating considerable anxiety, as he had to meet deadlines he knew he could not meet. This proved to be counterproductive, creating a vicious cycle in which anxiety undermined his performance and led to increased levels of anxiety.

“Writing the progress report was stressful, because there was no progress to report on. They asked why, but I couldn’t tell them because they weren’t listening to my reports of epilepsy,” he says.

After a disciplinary meeting, Malcolm began to suffer from depression. Eventually, senior management attempted to force him to take retirement on medical grounds.

This fuelled Malcolm’s anxiety – he was only 45 years old. Then, when faced with the prospect of demotion or marking time (in effect, a year-on-year pay cut) he felt that the case was becoming personal and that one manager in particular wanted to get rid of him.

“I had been sent to see an occupational therapist – I think the company was hoping he’d support their plan for my retirement on medical grounds, but he didn’t. He was the one to identify the stress spiral and first suggest that the company make reasonable adjustments.”

‘Things improved quickly after I spoke to my union rep’

Malcolm contacted his local rep and, after another disciplinary meeting, his case was passed on to a Prospect officer.

“It was only then that I felt I had someone speaking for me. For a year, it had been me against the system,” Malcolm says. “The rep knew the procedures to follow, who to contact and what to do.”

The union argued that the employer had ignored the Disability Discrimination Act (now part of the Equality Act 2010) by not making reasonable adjustments and threatened to take the case “to the wire”.

After meetings with Malcolm’s managers, Prospect was able to ensure he was transferred into a role that did not involve programming. The previous pressure to meet tight deadlines was also reduced. Malcolm did not suffer any loss of grading or have to face the prospect of marking time, as had been previously proposed.

Malcolm says: “Things happened quickly after the meeting I had with a Prospect rep present. The company found a role for me, as if by magic. I still do computing, but it’s simpler and a job I do well. But it took a while to get used to not being under that continuous pressure all the time.”

As a result of Prospect’s intervention, which forced management to look at their responsibilities properly, Malcolm’s obvious skills in this post have earned him recognition as well as a bonus.

He has since become a Prospect rep to help other members struggling with issues at work.

When asked what advice he would give other members in similar situations, Malcolm says: “Contact your rep. If they can’t deal with your case, they will pass it on and action will be taken on your behalf.

“Now, when I am given a new task, I ask for it to be explained to me and written down so that I can refer to it. And I have a great relationship with my line manager.

“The organisation has turned around. It now has a diversity committee, on which I sit as a union representative. It is very good about making reasonable adjustments now. For example, employees on my floor have been given special chairs, keyboards and even lighting.

“The situation has gone from one where I was unsure about having a job in three weeks’ time to one in which I feel like I work for a good employer.”

Read more

The business case for reasonable adjustments
How line managers can help neurodivergent staff