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Disabled employees more likely to experience ill-treatment at work

5 March 2013

Employees with disabilities are twice as likely to be attacked at work and experience higher rates of insults, ridicule and intimidation, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Cardiff School of Social Sciences and the Business School at Plymouth University 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. These included being given impossible deadlines and being ignored, gossiped about or teased.

The article entitled The Ill-treatment of Disabled Employees in British Workplaces’ is published in the Work, Employment and Society journal and the research 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.

(full statistics below)

Lead researcher Professor Ralph Fevre, 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."

Among workers with a disability, those with a psychological or learning disability usually fared worse 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.

The research, which used 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%.

“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 at:

Work, Employment and Society is published by the British Sociological Association and SAGE.

The research team are Professor Ralph Fevre, Dr Amanda Robinson and Mr Trevor Jones from the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, and Professor Duncan Lewis from the Business School at Plymouth University.

The authors used data from the British Workplace Behaviour Survey during 2007/08 which involved face-to-face interviews with people about their work in England, Scotland and Wales. The full results are:

Type of ill-treatmentNo disability or long-term illnessHaving a disability or long-term illness

Having a physical disability

(subset of total disabled)

Having a psychological/learning disability

(subset of total disabled)

Other disability

(subset of total disabled)

1 – Someone withholding information which affects your performance14.117.214.521.617.4
2 – Pressure from someone else to do work below your level of competence11.817.316.123.116.5
3 – Having your opinions and views ignored26.934.333.343.131.3
4 – Someone continually checking up on you or your work when it is not necessary 17.224.323.929.422.4
5 – Pressure from someone else not to claim something which by right you are entitled to8.515.511.119.218.1
6 – Being given an unmanageable workload or impossible deadlines28.838.740.244.234.8
7 – Your employer not following proper procedures20.433.829.939.235.3
8 – Being treated unfairly compared to others in your workplace14.520.418.840.413.0
9 – Being humiliated or ridiculed in connection with your work7.412.38.517.613.0
10 – Gossip and rumours being spread about you or having allegations made against you10.018.716.225.518.1
11 – Being insulted or having offensive remarks made about you14.324.317.944.222.4
12 – Being treated in a disrespectful or rude way21.831.023.942.333.0
13 – People excluding you from their group7.613.09.423.512.1
14 – Hints or signals from others that you should quit your job6.913.312.817.311.3
15 – Persistent criticism of your work or performance which is unfair11.119.317.925.018.1
16 – Teasing, mocking, sarcasm or jokes which go too far10.815.112.826.911.3
17 – Being shouted at or someone losing their temper with you23.134.530.556.928.4
18 – Intimidating behaviour from people at work12.722.919.732.722.4
19 – Feeling threatened in any way while at work10.617.617.133.311.3
20 – Actual physical violence at work4.510.58.521.27.8
21 – Injury in some way as a result of violence or aggression at work3.