Reasonable adjustments in the workplace
Written on 28 June 2022
Are you familiar with the term ‘reasonable adjustments’?
With roughly 20% of the UK’s working age population reporting to have a disability, it’s a concept all managers, HR professionals and employers should ensure they have a good understanding of, not only to support staff but to reduce the risk of disability discrimination claims at an Employment Tribunal.
Even if you have some knowledge of reasonable adjustments already, it can be all too easy to get caught out, even if your intentions are good. Here’s what you need to know.
What does the law say?
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees when they are placed at a substantial disadvantage by:
- An employer’s provision, criterion or practice (in other words, a rule which, when applied to all, puts certain individuals at a disadvantage);
- A physical feature of the employer’s premises; or
- An employer’s failure to provide an auxiliary aid.
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What amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010?
Whether the duty to make reasonable adjustments arises will depend on whether the employee in question has a physical or mental health condition which amounts to a disability.
Under the Equality Act, a worker will be considered disabled if they can show that they suffer from a physical or mental impairment which:
- Is long-term (i.e. has lasted 12 months or more); and
- Has a substantial effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities (i.e. it’s more than trivial).
In some cases, it’s relatively easy to determine whether the condition in question meets this criteria. For instance, a person with HIV, cancer or multiple sclerosis would be classed as disabled.
In other cases, it’s not so clear-cut, and a lot will depend on the facts. Menopause, for instance, has recently been found to be capable of protection, but that doesn’t mean that menopause will always amount to a disability in every case.
There are also conditions which may not in themselves amount to a disability, but which cause other physical or mental impairments which do meet the definition. Alcohol dependency, for example, is not covered by the Equality Act, but resulting depression or a liver condition may be.
As you can imagine, this can leave room for employers to get it wrong. Failing to recognise an employee’s condition as a disability, and act accordingly, can be a costly mistake to make.
What are reasonable adjustments?
According to Acas, a reasonable adjustment is a change that must be made to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to an employee’s disability when doing their job.
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 example 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?
One question employers often struggle with is what exactly constitutes reasonable. How far are employers expected to go to accommodate an employee’s disability?
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 include:
- 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); and
- The type and size of the employer.
It’s up to the employer to cover the cost of the reasonable adjustment. Of note, the Code says that even if an adjustment does have a hefty price tag, it could still be cost-effective. For example, if the cost of the adjustment is lower than the costs of recruiting someone new and having to train them, this is likely to be considered reasonable.
When does the duty to provide reasonable adjustments arise?
The duty to make reasonable adjustments only arises where the employer knows, or ought reasonably to know, that:
- The individual in question is disabled; and
- They are likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability.
The requirement to make reasonable adjustments applies to all employers, regardless of your size or the sector you operate in.
What’s more, the duty extends not just to your employees but any job applicants too. Reasonable adjustments should therefore be considered during the recruitment process, for example making changes to the location of the interview or providing assessments in alternative formats if needed.
If in doubt, seek advice
If you suspect that an employee’s condition could be classed as a disability, it’s always safest to seek advice.
Whether you’re in need of guidance on reasonable adjustments or worried about taking action against an employee who might be protected under employment law, our experienced team of HR, Legal and Occupational Health specialists are here to help you fulfil your legal duties and protect your business against discrimination pitfalls.
For advice and support, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.