Reasonable adjustments in the workplace

What are reasonable adjustments and what does the law say about the duty to provide reasonable adjustments? This guidance looks at how employers can assist disabled people within the workplace ensuring they are not disadvantaged, and how workers can request reasonable adjustments.

Content

Overview

It's reported that there are over 11 million people with limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in UK, with the most common impairment being mobility issues.

Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantially adverse and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure workers with disabilities, are not disadvantaged and take steps to remove, reduce or prevent obstacles a disabled worker or job applicant faces.

What is a reasonable adjustment?

Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged in the workplace. They should also make sure policies and practices do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.

What does reasonable mean?

What is reasonable will depend on the size and nature of the organisation, a large employer will be more likely than a small shop to have the resources to make very expensive adjustments. However, many adjustments will be simple and inexpensive. Some examples of reasonable adjustments might include:

  • a special chair because of back problems
  • a special keyboard because of arthritis
  • a ramp for a wheelchair user
  • changing working hours or patterns of work
  • a phased return after sick leave
  • a designated car park space
  • modifying sickness absence triggers - these are the number of days' absence when managers consider warning, and possible dismissal, unless attendance at work improves
  • modifying performance targets.

Employers should remember the aim of the adjustment is to take away the disadvantage for the disabled person and enable them to carry out their job/duties.

When must an employer make reasonable adjustments?

When a workplace feature or practice puts a worker or job applicant with a disability at a disadvantage, the employer has a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to see what 'reasonable adjustments' can be made if:

  • it becomes aware of their disability
  • it could reasonably be expected to know a worker has a disability
  • the worker asks for adjustments to be made
  • the worker is having difficulty with any part of their job
  • either the worker's sickness record, or delay in returning to work, is linked to their disability.

The employer should hold a meeting with the worker to discuss what can be done to help them. For example, this could be as simple as a change in working hours.

How can a worker request a reasonable adjustment?

An employer only has to make adjustment when they are aware, or could be expected to know that an employee has a disability. Workers can ask an employer to make reasonable adjustments, it may be beneficial if this is done in writing.

A worker should ask to talk to their manager/employer about the matter. A meeting can provide a worker with the opportunity to explain the situation more clearly and suggest possible adjustments. It will help the employer understand how best they can support and help the worker.

Making reasonable adjustments for workers

Employers must consider making reasonable adjustments for disabled workers or job applicants, holding a meeting to discuss what can be done to support them will help make a decision. The three main questions an employer should consider when assessing what reasonable adjustment might be needed, are:

  1. Does it need to change to how things are done?
  2. Does it need to physically change to the workplace?
  3. Does it need to provide extra equipment or get someone to assist the disabled worker in some way?

Employers are not required to change the basic nature of the job, but where there is a reasonable adjustment cost, it is responsible for paying. For example if a worker needs a specialist chair the employer must pay not the worker. A government scheme, Access to Work, can help with advice and, in some circumstance, some costs. Further details can be found at www.gov.uk/access-to-work.

Although an employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments there will be times when changes could be unreasonable, therefore it can be lawful to refuse to make them. Whether an adjustment is reasonable depend on an assessment of factors including:

  • Is it practical to make?
  • Does the employer have the resources to pay for it?
  • Will it be effective in overcoming or reducing the disadvantage in the workplace?
  • Will they have an adverse impact on the health & safety of others?

Making reasonable adjustments for job applicants

Employers should ask job applicants whether any reasonable adjustments are needed for any part of the recruitment process. An employer must make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process if the:

  • job applicant has indicated a disability in the application
  • employer becomes aware of it
  • candidate asks for reasonable adjustments.

Before offering a job the employer must only ask a disabled applicant what reasonable adjustments are needed:

  • for any part of the recruitment process and, once those are in place, whether they are suitable, and/or
  • to determine whether the applicant could carry out a function essential to the role with the reasonable adjustments in place.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments

An employer failing to make 'reasonable adjustments' for a disabled job applicant or worker is one of the most common types of disability discrimination. If adjustments are 'reasonable', an employer must make them to ensure its workplace or practices do not disadvantage a disabled job applicant or worker.

If a worker feels they have been discriminated against, they will be able to bring a claim of disability discrimination to an employment tribunal. However, it's best to talk to their employer first to try and resolve the issue informally. Having a discussion can often help the employer to understand the issues and concerns, and help to resolve the matter quickly and before it has to escalate further.