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Op-Ed: It’s Ableist to Cut Pay of Work-From-Home Employees

Young black woman in a wheelchair working from home on a laptop at a desk

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Rachel Charlton-Dailey is a journalist specializing in health and disability. Their work is featured in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey often uses her platform to spotlight issues that affect disabled people. Here, they share how proposed pay cuts for working from home would disproportionately affect disabled people.

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, many businesses will be expecting workers to return to the office. However, some employees are reluctant—especially those of us who are at high risk of catching COVID because we have chronic illnesses, disabilities, or are immunosuppressed.

A worrying trend is emerging for those of us who wish to keep working remotely: Some companies are floating the idea of cutting the pay of employees who choose to continue to work from home.

In August, Reuters reported that Google employees who made the decision to work from home permanently could see their pay cut by as much as 25%. 

Thriving in Remote Work

If these pay cuts are widely adopted, disabled people will be affected the most because they have benefitted the most from being able to work from home instead of having to go to the office. This is especially relevant in the middle of a pandemic that has particularly affected people with weakened immune systems.

Rachel Charlton-Dailey

Disabled people are now able to work from home in a way that’s comfortable for them without the pressures of an ableist society bearing down on them.

— Rachel Charlton-Dailey

As someone whose career was only able to flourish because of home working, the idea of pay cuts for working at home is deeply upsetting to me. It’s not just me though—many in the disabled community have been thriving in the past 18 months of the pandemic.

Disabled people are now able to work from home in a way that’s comfortable for them without the pressures of an ableist society bearing down on them.

As long as the pandemic is still not under control, it’s vital that disabled people are able to safely work, and for many people, that means working from home. Cutting the pay of these workers forces them to choose between going to work in a potentially unsafe environment and not being able to afford to live.

Disabled People Already Earn Less

A 2014 report by American Institutes for Research (AIR) found that working-age disabled people in the United States are paid nearly 37% less than people without disabilities. The report also showed that nondisabled people with a master’s degree earned, on average, over $20,000 more than disabled people who had the same qualifications.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 17.9% of disabled people are employed. Disabled people are also more likely to be employed part-time than nondisabled people.

The U.S. Census Bureau found that full-time, year-round disabled workers in the U.S. earn 87 cents for every dollar that is earned by workers without disabilities. When all workers’ schedules and occupations were included, the gap widened to 66 cents to the dollar.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 17.9% of disabled people are employed. Disabled people are more likely to be employed part-time (29% compared to 16% of nondisabled workers). For some, that’s because disability benefits from the government limit how much they work. In the U.S., Social Security disability insurance stops once someone earns more than $1,310 a month, or $2,190 if they are blind.

Disabled people are also less likely to work in management and professional occupations than people without a disability (36.1% compared to 43.3% nondisabled).

Being Disabled Is Expensive

The U.K. Disability charity Scope estimates that, on average, disabled people face extra costs of £583 ($798) a month, with one in five spending more than £1,000 a month.

The charity’s “Disability Price Tag” report found that £100 for a non-disabled person is equivalent to just £68 for a disabled person (about $136 and $93, respectively). A disabled adult’s extra costs can be equivalent to almost half of their income.

These extra costs come from specialist equipment (such as power chairs and screen-reading software), home adaptations (like needing ramps and grab rails), and having to pay more for accessible housing. 

£100 ($136) for a non-disabled person is equivalent to £68 ($93) for a disabled person.

The added costs can also include everyday things like needing to travel mostly by cabs (because public transport is by and large inaccessible) and having foods that are compatible with special diets (which can be more expensive). Disabled people may also have higher electricity bills because they have to charge equipment. People with limited mobility may need to keep their heat on more, as they are generally not creating as much body heat because they are not moving around as much as a non-disabled person. They may also need to have the heating on for medical reasons such as arthritis, circulation, and other musculoskeletal problems. 

Of the disabled adults that were surveyed in Scope’s “Out in the Cold” study, 55% said that they have worried about paying their energy bills.

Disabled Workers Are Valuable

The scariest part is that some employees are saying that they would welcome a pay cut. In a survey conducted by Goodhire, 61% of the 3,500 respondents said that they would be willing to take a pay cut to continue remote working.

The pandemic has shown how vital home working can be, but it's also highlighted how much of an asset disabled people are to the workforce when they have the tools that they need to contribute.

Some workers even said that they would take as much as a 50% pay cut to avoid returning to the office, though the most common response was a 10% pay cut (it should also be noted that the survey was about the importance of remote working).

The pandemic has shown how vital home working can be, but it’s also highlighted how much of an asset disabled people are to the workforce when they have the tools that they need to contribute.

Disabled workers bring unique perspectives and insights to companies. They make sure that people from all walks of life are represented.

We also provided the blueprint for home working. Many disabled people have been working from home successfully for years, proving we could still blend into a company while working remotely. This is why it’s so important that we don’t get edged out now.

Rachel Charlton-Dailey

Disabled people aren’t just valuable based on their ability to contribute. We’re valuable because we’re human beings.

— Rachel Charlton-Dailey


While some disabled people already did work from home pre-pandemic, it can’t be forgotten that many were refused accommodations. So it was a massive blow for the disabled community when the accommodations they’d been told were too difficult to make were suddenly implemented on such a large scale during COVID-19.

The pandemic has proven that working from home is possible. To take it away now would just be cruel.

Working from home has meant more to disabled people than just avoiding contracting COVID. It’s taken away accessibility barriers so that we can thrive.

For example, I couldn’t work in an office because I struggle to sit at a desk for too long and my fatigue means I have a limited amount of energy. Working from home means I can fit my job around my fatigue and work from bed or wherever is most comfortable for my arthritis on certain days. This means I’m well-rested and listen to my body in ways I couldn’t if I was in an office setting.

Of course, disabled people aren’t just valuable based on their ability to contribute. We’re valuable because we’re human beings. We deserve to have careers, follow our dreams, and even fail at work sometimes—just like everyone else.

Now that pandemic restrictions are easing, we must continue to support disabled people and allow them to work safely.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Institutes for Research. An uneven playing field: the lack of equal pay for people with disabilities. Published December 15, 2014.

  2. United States Census Bureau. Do people with disabilities earn equal pay? Published March 21, 2019.

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Persons with a disability: labor force characteristics summary. Published February 24, 2021.

  4. Social Security Administration. Substantial gainful activity. Updated October 13, 2020.

  5. Scope. Disability price tag. Published February 2019.

  6. Scope. Out in the cold. Published March 2018.

  7. GoodHire. The state of remote work in 2021: a survey of the American workforce. Published August 24, 2021.