Branch Secretary :

Hestia: failing to support its own disabled workers

Unite member facing dismissal threat


Hestia Housing and Support, a social care provider that supports a range of clients including those with disabilities, has been failing to support its own disabled employees and those with long-term conditions according to Unite the Union.


Unite has supported members who have been refused reasonable adjustments and at least one with sickle cell who could face dismissal for taking time off due to his condition.  


Worker with sickle cell faces dismissal  


Delo has been working as a group facilitator at a Hestia-run day centre in West London for over six years. He is an incredibly valued member of his team. His work at the service has won praise from the organisation and he has an unblemished disciplinary record. 


Delo has sickle cell. This is a hereditary condition that predominantly affects those from African and Caribbean backgrounds. When a sickle cell crisis hits it can be debilitating and Delo will often require hospital admission. 


New management


Previously, the time Delo required off due to his condition had not been an issue. However, when new management came in the situation changed. Over the past few months, Delo has been brought in for a series of absence review meetings during which he was made to feel like he was a burden on the team. He now faces a final written warning which could mean dismissal. 


Delo’s condition is exacerbated by stress and he feels his experience with Hestia has contributed to a recent increase in hospital admissions.   


Broken lift forces worker with mobility issues up two flights of stairs 


Another Hestia employee, Susan (name changed to protect identity), is a long-standing and much appreciated member of her team. She suffers from seropositive rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis which affect her mobility. Like Delo, flare ups in her condition cause huge amounts of pain and require her to take time off work.  


Despite the lift being broken, Susan was asked to come into the service’s second floor office or face potential disciplinary action. There have also been considerable delays in acquiring the mobility equipment the Department of Work and Pensions have advised she use. 


Lack of care


She too has been forced through the absence review procedure. Unite regrets that rather than focusing on the support she required, her most recent absence review meeting was used to criticise her practice and question her capability for a role she has been in for years. Unite is now supporting Susan in taking out a grievance against the employer. 


Rather than supporting those with disabilities, we again see Hestia’s lack of care causing their workers’ health conditions to worsen.  


Mental health and learning difficulties 


Unite has talked to Hestia employees with learning difficulties such as ADHD and dyslexia who also feel unsupported by the organisation. They feel they are being blamed for failing to keep up with the growing amounts of paperwork expected of staff while their requests for adjustments are ignored or delayed.  


Many Unite Members have reported being made to feel guilty for taking time off for their mental health and that absence review procedures have been used to penalise them.  Hestia encourages those with “lived-experience” to apply for roles at the organisation, but from talking to workers it seems that in reality the support for those with mental health difficulties is just not there. 


Unite calls on Hestia to count disability leave separately from sickness leave 


A lot needs to be done to make Hestia an organisation that truly supports its disabled workers. Unite is now calling on the employer to commit to the establishment of “disability leave.” This would be recorded separately from sick leave so that disabled workers are not penalised and singled out under absence management schemes for being disabled. 


This “reasonable adjustment” is one that other organisations have already put into policy, including the Camden and Islington NHS Trust. It was part of a toolkit Unite the Union was involved in developing with the trust in order for them to better support those with disabilities. Unite encourages Hestia to work with the union to develop a similar document.  Unite reps may find this guide useful.


16 December 2021


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