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Understanding an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments

Published: 

Mon 6 November, 2017

A person in a wheelchair at work

In employment matters the term reasonable is often used, but what exactly is considered reasonable can be open to interpretation and debate.

And when it comes to making reasonable adjustments (1) for an employee with a disability, things can be even more difficult.

Organisations have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace where a disabled person would otherwise be put at a substantial disadvantage compared with their colleagues.

Reasonable adjustments are changes that need to be made to the work environment in order to remove any physical barriers and to provide extra support to enable an employee with a disability to work safely and productively.

An employer only has to make adjustments where it is aware, or should reasonably be aware, that a worker has a disability.

Careful consideration has to be given as to how reasonable any proposed adjustments are. It will inevitably be based on the individual circumstances in each case and the employer’s resources. While a national employer is likely to be able to make large scale adjustments to the working environment, a small family run business is unlikely to be able to do the same.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission lists examples of steps it might be reasonable for employers to have to take and it includes (2):

  •  Making adjustments to premises: physical changes such as widening a doorway, providing a ramp or moving furniture for a wheelchair user.
  •  Altering the worker’s hours of working or training: flexible hours to enable them to have additional breaks to overcome fatigue arising from their disability.
  •  Acquiring or modifying equipment: special equipment such as an adapted keyboard for someone with arthritis or a large screen for a visually impaired worker.
  •  Modifying procedures for testing or assessment: A worker with restricted manual dexterity who is applying for promotion would be disadvantaged by a written test, so the employer can give that person an oral test instead.
  •  Modifying disciplinary or grievance procedures:  a worker with a learning disability is allowed to take a friend (who does not work with them)
  •  Providing supervision or other support: a support worker or arrange help from a colleague in appropriate circumstances.
  •  Adjusting redundancy selection criteria: when taking absences into account as a criterion for selecting people for redundancy, they discount periods of disability-related absence.

The key is to understand any difficulties that an employee with a disability faces in the workplace. Many adjustments can be straightforward and easy to carry out if proper consideration and planning is given to the matter.

When giving thought to accommodating a worker it is important to remember that not all disabilities are visible and due consideration also needs to be given to employee’s with hidden disabilities such as chronic pain, dyslexia and depressive disorders.

In accordance with the Equality Act 2010 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 (3).

Disability includes: physical, psychological or neurological disease or disorder illness, whether temporary or permanent.

If an employer fails to make a reasonable adjustment, it is unlawful discrimination (4) and an employee can take action under the Equality Act, including making a disability discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal.

There is no limit on the compensation that can be awarded in the event of a successful disability discrimination claim. South Wales police were ordered to pay a police officer £230,215 when he was physically unable to perform his duties and the force did not meet its duty to make reasonable adjustments (5).

Access to Work is a publicly funded employment support programme that can help employers to retain an employee who develops a disability or long term condition. It has produced a helpful factsheet for employers (6).

References

  1.   Reasonable adjustments are often straightforward. 2014 Sep 25 [cited 2017 Oct 31]; Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4986
  2.   Examples of reasonable adjustments in practice | Equality and Human Rights Commission [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/multipage-guide/examples-reasonable-adjustments-practice
  3.   Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010
  4.   Discrimination at work - what’s the unfair treatment? [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 31]. Available from: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/discrimination-at-work/identifying-discrimination/discrimination-at-work-what-s-the-unfair-treatment/
  5.   Faragher J. Police officer forced to retire wins disability discrimination case [Internet]. Personnel Today. 2014 [cited 2017 Oct 31]. Available from: http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/police-officer-forced-to-retire-wins-disability-discrimination-case/
  6.   Access to Work factsheet for employers - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-to-work-guide-for-employers/access-to-work-factsheet-for-employers

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