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Things to consider when asking for reasonable adjustments

Published: 

Mon 23 September, 2019

The question: what is a reasonable adjustment that I can ask for? Appears as if it may be quite simple to answer, but it is not as straightforward as it seems.

There are occasions where an employer is likely to have to consider making workplace adjustments to help an employee with a disability to do their job.

This is what under the Equality Act 2010 is called making ‘reasonable adjustments’ (1). The term refers to changes to policies, working practices or physical layouts, or providing extra equipment or support for an employee with a disability.

A disabled person is defined as having a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities (2).

 

Where an employer is aware, or should reasonably be aware, that an employee has a disability it should be positive and proactive in making reasonable adjustments.

In reality the onus usually appears to be on the employee to suggest what they require. The dilemma an employee is faced with in these circumstances is what exactly can I ask for?

If you are in a vulnerable position and considering asking your employer for a reasonable adjustment you may feel uncertain or even embarrassed to ask.

When asking for a reasonable adjustment you will have to show that you are at a substantial disadvantage in the workplace because of your disability. This means being affected in a way which is more than minor or trivial.

For example, asking to start work later than colleagues because heavy congestion makes your commute to work difficult is likely to be considered so minor it does not require an adjustment. If a change of medication makes it more difficult to get going in the morning and being repeatedly late may lead to formal action being taken against you, then it can be considered to be more than minor or trivial.

You need to be able to explain to your employer why you need the adjustments you are asking for and difficulties this is creating in you being able to do your job.

You should be able to detail why it is problematic for you to perform expected tasks and duties compared to someone without your disability.

In making a request for a reasonable adjustment you should consider:

  • How will the change that you require stop you from being at a disadvantage in the workplace? If there is a good chance it will do so, the more likely it is to be considered reasonable
  • What impact will the change have on the employer and is it practical for it to make the change
  • The financial and other costs of making the change
  • Will making the change cause any disruption?

An employer cannot justify a failure to make a reasonable adjustment; where the duty arises, the issue is whether or not the adjustment is ‘reasonable’ and this is an objective question for the courts to ultimately determine.

While making physical changes to buildings to provide better access may be a reasonable for a large organisation, it may not be considered to be so for a small family run business.

The fact there is no definitive definition of ‘reasonable’ can make it difficult for both employer and employee in determining what is reasonable, and what is unreasonable.

If an employer does not make the adjustments they have a duty to make, it can be considered an act of disability discrimination (3). Failing to make reasonable adjustments is one of the most common forms of discrimination.

An administrative worker, who had suffered with depression for about three years, was awarded £75,000 when the government department she works for failed to make a reasonable adjustment by moving her desk (4).

The Access to Work Scheme can talk to your employer about changes it must make if you have a disability or mental health condition (5)

The scheme can offer support based on your needs, which may include a grant to help cover the costs of practical support in the workplace. A grant can pay for special equipment, adaptations or support worker services to help you do things like answer the phone or go to meetings and also help getting to and from work.

References

1Making reasonable adjustments [Internet]www.acas.org.uk [cited 16.9.19] https://www.acas.org.uk/article/6074/Reasonable-adjustments-in-the-workplace

2 Definition of disability [Internet] www.gov.uk [cited 16.9.19]https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010

3 Disability discrimination [Internet]www.equalityhumanrights.com [cited 16.9.19] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/disability-discrimination#what

4 £75,000 tribunal award [internet] www.gov.uk [cited 16.9.19] https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunal-decisions/ms-l-j-bannister-v-the-commissioners-for-hm-revenue-and-customs-2500750-2016

5 Access to work scheme [Internet] www.gov.uk [cited 16.9.19]https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work

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