Government research has suggested that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) lack knowledge regarding laws governing disability equality in the workplace.

A qualitative study by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) found that SMEs have a number of concerns when it comes to employing people with disabilities.

The main uncertainties identified by businesses include their perception of the suitability of the built environment, risks to productivity, negative impact on staff from any loss to productivity and the risk of harm to the disabled person, staff and/or customers.

When it comes to employing people with disabilities and helping to accommodate them in the workplace, it was revealed that many SMEs suffer from a lack of knowledge.

“Employers perceived greater difficulties in employing people with fluctuating health conditions but were found to lack knowledge about specific health conditions and relevant legislation which may have impacted upon their ability to judge the suitability of a disabled applicant in a given role,” said the DWP.

Many were found to be unaware of the department’s existing policy levers designed to support the employment of disabled people, despite a large number stating that such levers could be useful once informed of them.

“When asked about specific policies many thought levers such as the use of job brokers, work trials and financial assistance to fund adaptations could be potentially useful in overcoming the uncertainties SME employers harbour towards recruiting disabled people,” said the government department.

The research was based on two interviews each of 30 SME employers across a number of different sectors.

Employers were interviewed immediately before and after having recruited for a genuine vacancy.

The study found that successful applicants for vacancies were chosen largely based on employers’ perception of their ability to work flexibly and adapt to different roles, as well as factors such as competence, reliability, stability in their private life, employment history, work ethic and personality.