Employees with disabilities are twice as likely to be attacked at work and they experience higher rates of insults, ridicule and intimidation, a new UK study has found.
Researchers from Cardiff and Plymouth universities found that people with physical or psychological disabilities or long-term illness reported higher rates of 21 types of ill-treatment than other workers did, often from their managers and colleagues.
These included being given impossible deadlines and being ignored, gossiped about or teased.
The research, published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, today [Tuesday 5 March], examined responses to interview questions given by 3,979 people, 284 of them with a disability or long-term illness.
Among the 284:
• 10.5% said they had suffered physical violence at work, compared with 4.5% of people without disabilities or long-term illness.
• 7.4% said they had been injured at work as a result of aggression, compared with 3.5% of people without disabilities or long-term illness.
• 12.3% said they had been humiliated or ridiculed at work, compared with 7.4% of people without disabilities or long-term illness.
• 24.3% said they had been insulted at work, compared with 14.3% of people without disabilities or long-term illness.
• 34.5% said they had been shouted at, compared with 23.1% of people without disabilities or long-term illness.
The research, which uses data from the British Workplace Behaviour Survey, found that those with disabilities or long-term illness said managers were responsible for 45% of the more serious ill-treatment they had suffered and that customers or clients were responsible for 28%, and colleagues for 18%.
The lead researcher, Professor Ralph Fevre, of Cardiff School of Social Sciences, said: “Up to now, researchers have generally assumed that ill-treatment in the workplace was causing disabilities and health problems. Our work suggests ill-treatment happens to employees who already have disabilities or health problems.”
In their paper ‘The Ill-treatment of Disabled Employees in British Workplaces’, Professor Fevre, Dr Amanda Robinson, and Trevor Jones of Cardiff University, and Professor Duncan Lewis, of Plymouth University, note that people with a disability or long-term illness reported higher levels in all the categories of ill-treatment they looked at.
Among workers with a disability, those with a psychological or learning disability usually fared wore than those with physical disabilities or long-term physical health problems. Among those with a psychological or learning disability, 21.2% said they were victims of physical violence, 44.2% said they had been insulted and 56.9% said they had been shouted at.
“Workers with disabilities were far more likely to be ill-treated at work and experienced a broader range of ill-treatment,” the researchers say in their paper, which is one of the few quantitative assessments of the scale of the problem.
“Any one of these forms of ill-treatment could have an adverse effect on their productivity and, in turn, shore up assumptions about the lack of productive worth of people with disabilities.
“The efforts employees with disabilities make to escape ill-treatment may also exacerbate their marginalisation in less productive, and less well paid jobs, or even lead to their withdrawal from the labour market altogether.”
In their paper the authors offer various possible reasons for the higher level of ill-treatment, including conflict with managers over sickness absence and the interpretation of anti-discrimination legislation. However, the authors note that some of the ill-treatment came from colleagues and clients, and not managers. Another possibility was simply “stigma and discrimination” against people with disabilities, the researchers say.
The research was carried out as part of an ESRC funded study, Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Britain with Special Reference to Race and Ethnicity. Full details are available www.esrc.ac.uk
Work, Employment and Society is published by the British Sociological Association and SAGE.