The differences between how two visually impaired workers were treated at different branches of the cosmetics company reveal a recurring gap between legislation and implementation of inclusive policies.
According to her blog post testimonial, Carys, a blind woman, applied for a position at Lush in 2017. Though she notified them of her access needs in advance, reasonable accommodations were not made for her to successfully complete the interview and she was not retained. She sought legal advice and contacted Lush headquarters whilst her mother posted about it on Facebook, which prompted Lush to reach out to her. She was offered a trial shift, which she successfully completed before being hired by the company.
However, her post goes on to detail the ways in which the store staff failed to assist her, which affected her ability to perform her job, and her mental health. Her contract was not renewed after her 8-month probatory period. The same year Carys applied at Lush, a video was published titled ‘Working at Lush with a Disability | Fashioneyesta‘.
It describes the experience of Emily, who is partially-sighted. In summary, Emily’s experience working at Lush was great, her colleagues provided her with all the assistance required. So, does Lush discriminate against young employees with disabilities? Their policy allows for reasonable accommodations, as they were provided for Emily. However, the provision and undertaking of accessible measures still rests on the competence and will of management staff, which is where the problem lies. Management at Emily’s branch allowed for her swift incorporation into their workforce, but according to Carys, the same cannot be said about management at her branch.
This shows that either there is no mainstreaming of accessibility and it is approached on a case by case basis at the discretion of management, or that they do not screen their staff for discriminatory attitudes and that they do not hold them accountable for it. Screening for ableism can be difficult, but the most certain way to mainstream inclusion is to hire more persons with disabilities in recruitment and management positions too.
On average, in the European Union, only 48.1% of persons with disabilities are in employment, compared to 73.9% among the general population. These numbers do not consider persons living in institutions, meaning that the percentage difference is greater than it appears. Furthermore, women with disabilities, young disabled persons and people in need of high-level support are more likely to be discriminated against and excluded from the labour market.
Management staff should not be telling subordinates that they have no time to provide reasonable accommodation (which they are bound by law to provide). However, when there are no consequences for breaching legally binding policies, and no mechanism through which to hold workers accountable for engaging in discriminatory behaviour, vulnerable people continue to be actively pushed out of the work force and barred from entering it. In Carys’ case, first she was excluded due to an inaccessible interview environment, the head office stepped in to make amends, but it was the same staff who excluded her in the first place who were made responsible for providing reasonable accommodation.
While companies and institutions boast about inclusive policies and share success stories, the reality is that an average of 29.3% of persons with disabilities in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion (more than 20 million citizens). Most mentions of disability in the Country Specific Recommendations of the European Semester were in reference to employment, specifically the fact that persons with disabilities continue to be excluded from the work force across member states. To redress this, inclusive policies must be effectively implemented through adequate funding, training of staff, and active recruitment of persons with disabilities.
Companies do not discriminate, it is the people who work for them who do