Reasonable adjustments in the workplace

Are you familiar with the term ‘reasonable adjustments’?

If not, it’s time to get well acquainted with the topic to avoid running the risk of disability discrimination claims at an Employment Tribunal.

And if you already have some knowledge, there are still many opportunities to get caught out even if your intentions are good.

What does the Equality Act say?

Under the Equality Act, there is a legal duty imposed on employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees when they are placed at a substantial disadvantage by

  • an employer’s provision, criterion or practice or
  • a physical feature of the employer’s premises or
  • an employer’s failure to provide an auxiliary aid.

What amounts to a disability under the Equality Act?

In essence, the worker will be considered disabled under the Act if they can show that they suffer from a long term (i.e. 12 months or more) physical or mental impairment which has a substantial (i.e. more than trivial) effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

A person will meet the disability definition under the Equality Act 2010 if they have HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis, but someone who has alcohol dependency will not fall within under this definition.

What are reasonable adjustments?

Some examples of reasonable adjustments include:

  • Adjusting the recruitment process
  • Providing a nearby parking space
  • Doing things another way, for example, changing picking/packing and production rates by adjusting the widget making target from 100 to 75 for an employee with dexterity issues
  • Making physical changes, for example installing a ramp for a wheelchair user or widening a doorway
  • Letting a disabled person work somewhere else, for example, relocating a wheelchair user from the inaccessible second floor to work on the ground floor
  • Changing their equipment, for instance, providing a larger screen for someone who is visually impaired
  • Allowing employees who become disabled to make a phased return to work, such as letting them work flexible hours
  • Modifying instructions, for example, providing the manuals in Braille.

What is considered ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances?

The Statutory Code of Practice states that some of the factors which should be considered when determining what is a reasonable step for an employer to take are:

  • whether taking any particular steps would be effective in preventing the substantial disadvantage
  • the practicability of the step
  • the financial and other costs of making the adjustment and the extent of any disruption caused
  • the extent of the employer’s financial or other resources
  • the availability to the employer of financial or other assistance to help make an adjustment (such as advice through Access to Work)
  • the type and size of the employer.

It is up to the employer to cover the cost of the reasonable adjustment. The Code says that even if an adjustment does have a hefty price tag, it could still be cost-effective, for example, if you compare the cost of the reasonable adjustment to the costs of recruiting someone new and having to train them.

When does the duty to provide reasonable adjustments arise?

The duty only arises where the employer knows or ought reasonably to know

  • that the individual in question is disabled and
  • is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability.

It can apply in relation to both your employees and any job applicants.

Does it apply to all employers?

The duty to make reasonable adjustment applies to all employers regardless of their size or the sector they operate in.

To find out more, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can guide you.