Disability-related sickness absence is the number one issue when it comes to equality at work, according to nearly two-thirds of union representatives responding to a Trades Union Congress (TUC) audit.

The results of the study, which was launched to coincide with the start of Disability History Month (22 November – 22 December), revealed that more than half of respondents (52%) felt that disability-related issues were the most common equality issue they had faced in the past two years. While disability-related sickness absence was the most common equality topic, highlighted by 65% of union representatives, affecting private and public sectors throughout the UK, except London.

Respondents also noted that disabled people often have more frequent sickness absences but that workplace policies did not account for this.

As part of the audit unions were asked whether they felt, in the last two years, it has become more or less difficult to get employers to address workplace equality issues; 18 unions (53%) claimed it had become more difficult, five unions (15%) said it had become easier and 11 unions (32%) said it had stayed the same.

Rakesh Patel, head of employment rights strategy at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The onus is on the employer to ensure that disabled workers are fairly treated at work and that their disabilities are supported. The TUC’s latest audit shows that, sadly, such equality issues are still very much a problem in the workplace today, however, trade unions are continuing to challenge employers to do better for all of their workforce, including disabled employees.

“At Thompsons, our employment law team only ever represents trade unions and their members and we understand that no two workers are the same. Managers should be adequately trained so that they can support disabled employees to breakdown any barriers they face that prevents them from carrying out their job.”