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Understanding the duty to make reasonable adjustments

Published: 

Mon 10 September, 2018

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The term reasonable adjustment is one that is often used when it comes to discussing help for disabled and vulnerable employees in the workplace.

But what exactly is meant by a reasonable adjustment and what is an employer obliged to do?

What is reasonable will depend on the size of the employer. It is likely that a large organisation will have the resources to make very expensive adjustments, such as modifications to a building for better access, in comparison to a small family owned business. However, many adjustments can be simple and inexpensive.

Getting a special chair for help with back problems, allowing an employee to work from home or providing a specialist keyboard can all be considered reasonable and straightforward adjustments.

Understanding reasonable adjustments and what the law says about the duty to make such changes is crucial.

A number of legal cases have highlighted the difficulty employers face when determining what can be considered a reasonable adjustment.

In the case of an employee at the Home Office the court found that reduced workload could have been considered a reasonable adjustment to help the employee (1)

While in another case, a university lecturer lost a claim for disability discrimination based on the employer’s alleged failure to make a reasonable adjustment in how it distributed the academic workload between members of staff (2).

Each case will be judged on its merits and circumstances. Although the adjustments in the two cases highlighted are similar, significant factors in every case will be taken into consideration.

The Equality Act 2010 explains the requirements of the duty to make reasonable adjustments (3). It includes removing any disadvantage a disabled person may face that is caused by a provision, criterion, practice, physical feature or the provision of an auxiliary aid that puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage to a non-disabled person.

An organisation is expected to make reasonable adjustments if it is aware an employee has a disability, can be reasonably expected to know an employee has a disability, adjustments are requested or if the worker is having difficulty with their job

It is advisable to meet with an employee to discuss any help or assistance they may need and to consider any requests fairly.

In considering what constitutes a reasonable adjustment there are a number of factors an employer needs to take into account in determining if it is in fact reasonable.

Any change or modification should be done with the chief purpose of helping the employee in the workplace, and it should be effective, affordable and feasible

In many cases there will be simple adjustments that can be made such as straightforward modifications to the working environment or allowing flexible working.

Problems can arise for smaller employers if expensive specialist equipment is required or the working environment becomes physically challenging and unsuitable.

The Equality and Human Rights commission does state that when the duty to make reasonable adjustments arises an employer is under a positive and proactive duty to take steps to remove or reduce or prevent the obstacles an employee is faced with (4).

In all cases, the cost has to be borne by the employer and this can again pose problems for small businesses.

However, in some cases employees can get help with the cost of adjustments from Access to Work. It offers support, which may include a grant to help cover the costs of practical support in the workplace (5).

The government has provided guidance for organisations on employing employees who have a disability (6). It is designed to provide a better understanding of disability and to enable employers to recruit and support disabled people and those with long-term health conditions in work.

References

1.Tribunal confirms employers’ broad duties to make reasonable adjustments [Internet]. People Management. [cited 2018 Sep 3]. Available from: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/experts/legal/tribunal-confirms-employers-duties-make-reasonable-adjustments

2.Case law: Stress, anxiety and reasonable adjustments | Croner-i [Internet]. [cited 2018 Sep 3]. Available from: https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/case-law-stress-anxiety-and-reasonable-adjustments

3.Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2018 Sep 3]. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/20

4.In employment: Workplace adjustments | Equality and Human Rights Commission [Internet]. [cited 2018 Sep 3]. Available from: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/multipage-guide/employment-workplace-adjustments

5.Get help at work if you’re disabled or have a health condition (Access to Work) [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 Sep 3]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work

6.Employing disabled people and people with health conditions [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 Sep 3]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/employing-disabled-people-and-people-with-health-conditions/employing-disabled-people-and-people-with-health-conditions

 

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