Employment & labor law /

Unlocking the Untapped Workforce: Employing Disabled Individuals in Poland

Legislation, such as the Act on Vocational and Social Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled People, establishes a framework for integrating disabled persons into the job market and reflects a cultural shift towards a more equitable society. Hence, understanding the intricacies and benefits of employing individuals with disabilities is pivotal for both employers and the broader community.

Employers, in particular, play a central role in transforming these rights into a reality, ensuring the workplace is adaptive, supportive, and above all, welcoming. Through this exploration, we will dissect the Employing Disabled Individuals in Poland framework, revealing not just the legal obligations but also the spectrum of advantages for organizations that champion diversity and inclusion.
Unlocking the Untapped Workforce Employing Disabled Individuals in Poland

Employment of disabled

The issues of employment of disabled persons, in terms of exceptions not regulated in the Labor Code, are specified in the Act of August 27, 1997 on vocational and social rehabilitation and employment of disabled persons.

In order to properly understand the regulations described below and the answers to the questions asked, please be aware that disabled people in Poland may have three degrees of disability:

  • mild degree of disability (“lekki stopień niepełnosprawności”);
  • moderate degree of disability („umiarkowany stopień niepełnosprawności”);
  • significant degree of disability (“znaczny stopień niepełnosprawności”)
    • which are confirmed by a disability certificate (the certificate determines a given degree).

The definitions of individual degrees are regulated in art. 4 of the Act on vocational and social rehabilitation and employment of disabled persons.

Most of the additional entitlements and restrictions are related to the last two degrees (moderate and significant).

A disabled person is entitled to employment rights specified in this summary, respectively, from the date from which the disabled person was added to the disabled staff at certain employer (from the date of presenting the employer with a certificate confirming the disability).

Navigating Working Hours and Conditions

When considering the employment of disabled individuals, the first point of interest for employers are the possible adaptions required regarding working hours and conditions. The law affords flexibility in this domain, acknowledging the varied capabilities and requirements of the disabled workforce.

Flexible Work Hours: Employers must be open to adjusting work schedules where necessary. This could involve part-time options, flexible starting and ending times, or remote work arrangements, all aimed at accommodating the individual’s specific needs without compromising productivity.

Adaptive Equipment and Aid: Often, disabled workers can greatly benefit from specialized tools and equipment that enable them to carry out their work effectively. Employers are required to provide or facilitate access to these aids, ensuring a level playing field in the workplace.

Employers must remember that the goal is to enable meaningful and productive work, and these adjustments, far from being a liability, can lead to greater job satisfaction and loyalty from employees.

The working time of a disabled person cannot exceed 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week(regular norms for a full-time employee). However, in the case of disabled people with disabilities classified as “significant” or “moderate”, it cannot exceed 7 hours a day and 35 hours a week.

The use of shortened working time standards does not result in a reduction in the amount of remuneration paid in a fixed monthly amount. people cannotAs part of this obligation, the hourly rates of basic remuneration are increased accordingly, which ensures that the monthly remuneration remains at the same level as for a person working full-time.

It is also important that disabled people cannot be employed at night or work overtime.

The obligation to apply shortened working time standards does not apply to:

  1. persons employed in guarding (supervision and protection of property) and
  2. situations where, at the request of an employed person, the doctor conducting preliminary examinations of the employee or the doctor taking care of the person gives consent to work regular hours.

A disabled person also has the right to an additional break from work for exercise or rest(on top of the breaks from work provided for by the Labor Code). The break time is 15 minutes and is included in the working time.

As a reminder, the amount of breaks included in the working time under the Labor Code (for regular employees) is as follows:

If the employee’s daily working time:

  1. is at least 6 hours – the employee has the right to a break from work lasting at least 15 minutes;
  2. is longer than 9 hours – the employee is entitled to an additional break from work lasting at least 15 minutes;
  3. is longer than 16 hours – the employee has the right to another break from work lasting at least 15 minutes.

Adding an Extra Dimension to Leave Policies

For disabled employees, additional leave might be a necessity to manage their health or attend medical appointments. Employers should be cognizant of these circumstances and provide supportive policies that reflect the unique needs of their workforce.

Sick Leave Considerations: Employers must recognize that disability-related absences should not be penalized. Under Polish law, disabled employees are entitled to extended sickness benefits which must form part of organizational leave policies.

Rehabilitation Leave: This specialized form of leave allows individuals to engage in activities that support their rehabilitation and integration into the workplace. It is a benefit designed to facilitate personal development and career growth post-recovery.

Such considerations unify the employer’s role in both the immediate well-being and the long-term career trajectory of their disabled workers.

Employment of disabled

Apart from the regular leave from the Labor Code (20 or 26 days for a full-time employee), a disabled person classified as “significantly” or “moderately” disabled is entitled to an additional leave of 10 working days per calendar year. This person acquires the right to the first additional leave after working for one year after the date of being classified as one of these degrees of disability.

This additional leave is not available to a person entitled to annual leave exceeding 26 working days or to additional leave under separate regulations (for example in the internal regulations of the employer). However, if the amount of additional leave (based on other regulations) is lower than 10 working days, it is replaced by the above-mentioned additional 10 days of leave.

Additionally, a person with a significant or moderate degree of disability has the right to additional release from work while retaining the right to remuneration:

1) up to 21 working days in order to participate in a rehabilitation stay, no more than once a year,

2) in order to perform specialist tests, medical or rehabilitation treatments, as well as to obtain orthopedic supplies or their repairs, if these activities cannot be performed outside working hours.

Remuneration for the period of such release from work is calculated as the cash equivalent for annual leave.

The total amount of additional leave (the above-mentioned 10 days) and release from work may not exceed 21 working days in a calendar year.

Probation Period

The probation period is a mutual vetting process; for disabled employees, it’s about proving their capabilities, and for employers, it’s an assessment of suitability within a conventional working environment.

Termination Restrictions During Probation: During the probation period, the employer must adhere to strict guidelines regarding the termination of a disabled employee. The reasons for dismissal can only be the ones directly related to the disability and its impact on the job requirements.

Supportive Approach Post-Probation: Should an employee pass the probation phase, employers should shift their approach from evaluation to integration. The employee’s performance should be judged on equal grounds, providing an opportunity to contribute fully.

Maintaining transparency and support throughout this phase will foster trust and indicate the seriousness with which the organization treats its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Termination process in the probation period

Termination process in the probation period is the same as in case of regular employees.

The notice period for an employment contract concluded for a trial period is:

  1. 3 business days if the trial period does not exceed 2 weeks;
  2. 1 week if the trial period is longer than 2 weeks;
  3. 2 weeks if the trial period is 3 months.The employer does reason for not have to provide the reason terminating the contract in the notice.

Termination process after the probation period

Termination period for a disabled person hired under definite/indefinite contract is the same as in case of regular employees.

The notice period for an employment contract concluded for an indefinite period and an employment contract concluded for a fixed period depends on the period of employment with a given employer and is:

  1. 2 weeks if the employee was employed for less than 6 months;
  2. 1 month if the employee has been employed for at least 6 months;
  3. 3 months if the employee has been employed for at least 3 years.

The employerhas to provide the reasonfor terminating the contract in the notice.

General rule that applies to both probation period and regular contracts:

A disabled person, regardless of the degree of disability, is not protected against termination of the employment contract (e.g. pregnant women). However, it should be remembered that the dismissal of such person cannot be considered discriminatory.

Pursuant to art. 113of the Labor Code any discrimination in employment, direct or indirect, in particular due to disability (among others) is unacceptable.

Medical check-ups of disabled employees

Employers are entitled to request medical examinations to determine an employee’s fitness for the job. However, in the case of disabled individuals, there are additional considerations that must be observed.

Reasonable Medical Requirements: The purpose of medical checks is to ensure that the employee can fulfill the duties required. For disabled individuals, these checks should be related only to the specific job and should not discriminate against the disabled worker unjustly.

Respect for Privacy and Dignity: Medical examinations, including psychological assessments, must be carried out with respect for the individual’s privacy and dignity. Employers must ensure that the process is as non-intrusive as possible.

Such practices safeguard the individual’s rights while still affording employers the necessary information to make informed decisions about their workforce.

Provision of art. 229 of the Labor Code regarding medical examination also applies to disabled persons. Therefore, such an employee shall undergo both preliminary medical examinations (before commencement of work) as well as periodic and control medical examinations – in the same cases as a regular employee.

A disabled person (including a person with a certified degree of disability) can perform his or her duties if he or she undergoes preliminary medical examinations, which are a standard procedure for people applying for employment. If the result of the examination is positive, i.e. if no contraindications to performing specific duties are identified, the person can start working. Of course, the employer’s obligations include taking into account the limitations resulting from the disability – they shall adapt the duties and the workplace and provide occupational health and safety training.

The current referral template for medical examinations does not include information in the referral that a disabled person will be examined. It should be remembered that informing the employer about the degree of disability is the right and not the obligation of the employed person. Therefore, the employee has the right to present his or her disability certificate during a visit to the doctor and the employer should not indicate this fact in the referral.

Important information:

The doctor who carries out the initial, periodic, and control examinations is not the one declaring disability of an employee. It is done in a special certificate in a procedure conducted by District Disability Assessment Boards – as the first instance, Provincial Disability Assessment Boards – as the second instance (this is regulated in provision of art. 6 of Act on vocational and social rehabilitation and the employment of disabled persons).

There are conflicting opinions as to whether, if the employee becomes disabled or his degree of disability changes, the employer should send him or her for further medical examination, despite employee having a valid medical certificate. Although formally the provisions of labor law do not provide for such an obligation, in practice it is assumed that in connection with presenting the certificate of disability (or a new certificate in case of employee who was already disabled), the employer should send the employee for medical check-up to determine the ability to work in a specific position under the working conditions previously performed. One of the employer’s basic obligations is to protect the health of disabled employees as part of preventive measures. It is assumed that a medical certificate issued as part of preliminary examinations becomes invalid in the event of situations that may indicate a change in the employee’s health condition. This means that when an employee presents a new certificate confirming a different degree of disability, the employer may consider referring him or her to appropriate medical check-up, in order to obtain a new medical certificate.

Further details that employer shall be aware of

Please be aware that there is also an important rule for regular employees who becomes disabled due to work-related reasonsworkstation.

For an employed person who, as a result of an accident at work or an occupational disease, has lost the ability to work in his or her current position, the employer is obliged to allocate or organize an appropriate workstation with basic social facilities,no later than within three months from the date of the person’s declaration of readiness to come back to work. Notification of readiness to come back to work should be made within one month from the date of recognition as a disabled person.

This rule does not apply if the sole cause of the accident at work was a violation of occupational health and safety regulations by the employee due to his fault or his state of intoxication – if proven by the employer.

There is a financial punishment restricted for not complying with this obligation. If the employer fails to fulfill this obligation, then on the day of termination of the employment relationship with this person, he must make a payment to the PFRON account in the amount of fifteen times the average salary.

Benefits for Employers in Hiring Disabled Individuals

Employing individuals with disabilities goes beyond legal compliance. It can have tangible benefits for companies willing to invest in a diverse workforce.

Improved Brand Perception: Consumers are increasingly drawn to brands that demonstrate ethical and inclusive practices. By visibly employing disabled individuals, companies can enhance their brand’s reputation and appeal.

Access to Unparalleled Talent: The perspective and life experiences that disabled individuals bring to the table can stimulate innovation and creativity. These unique qualities can be valuable assets in a competitive marketplace.

Financial Incentives: The Polish government provides financial support to businesses that hire disabled individuals. Tax benefits, grants for adaptations, and insurance premium reductions are just some of the incentives offered, providing a clear business case for diversity.

Benefits for Employers in Hiring Disabled Individuals

In conclusion, the employment of disabled individuals in Poland represents more than a legal decree; it is an opportunity for companies to lead by example, enrich their working environment, and contribute to a more equitable society. As the business landscape evolves, so too must our approaches to inclusion and diversity. Companies willing to champion these values will not only benefit from a more engaged and varied workforce but will also leave a meaningful impact on their communities and the world at large.

Employment of disabled people may result in the following benefits for employer:

  1. In the field of payments to PFRON (State Fund for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities).

Please be aware that employers who employ at least 25 people full-time in a given month and do not employ disabled people or the employment level of disabled people is lower than 6% are obliged to make contributions to PFRON.

Hiring disabled people by such employer may result in:

  • Exemption from payments to PFRON – in workplaces employing more than 25 people based on full-time work, if the ratio of disabled people to the total number of employees is at least 6%. This is actually the only possibility for private entrepreneurs to be completely exempt from payments to PFRON.

The required percentage can be lowered by employing disabled people suffering from particularly serious illnesses.

  • Reduction of payments to PFRON – each additional disabled person employed, if the above numerical criteria for total exemption from payments are not met, will result in a reduction of payments to PFRON. How large these reductions will be depends on the size of the workplace and the number of disabled people.

    Other benefits from employing disabled people:

  • remuneration subsidies for disabled people– if the employee has been included in the register of disabled employees conducted by PFRON. The subsidy amounts depend on the degree of disability of the employees (up to 2400 PLN monthly). In case of employers employing at least 25 employees on a full-time basis they must achieve the indicator employment of disabled people of at least 6% in order to receive such subsidy;
  • reimbursement of the costs of adapting premises to the needs of disabled people, work-related reasonsadapting or purchasing devices to facilitate the work of disabled people, purchasing and authorizing software and assistive technologies – this only applies to the employer’s additional costs resulting from the employment of disabled people, provided that such a person is employed for at least 36 months. The reimbursement may not exceed twenty times the average remuneration for each adapted workplace of a disabled person;
  • reimbursement of monthly employment costs of employees helping a disabled employee at work and reimbursement of training costs for these employees;
  • reimbursement of the costs of equipping the workplace– up to the amount of fifteen times the average salary, however, there is a condition of employing a disabled person for at least 36 months;
  • possibility of reimbursement by PFRON of training costs for disabled people.

Further-reaching benefits can only be obtained by establishing a sheltered workplace (so-called “zakład pracy chronionej”) that meets specific requirements regarding the number of disabled people and working conditions (the requirements for establishing such an establishment are included in art. 28 of Acton vocational and social rehabilitation and employment of disabled persons). They are for example: tax exemptions, subsidies of up to 50% of the interest rate on bank loans (provided that these loans are used for purposes related to the professional and social rehabilitation of disabled people), reimbursements of construction or reconstruction costs, as well as transport and administrative costs. However, the creation of such a workplace also entails a significant number of obligations on the employer’s side.

Author team leader DKP Legal Joanna Kowal
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