Reasonable adjustments at work – Employer obligations

 What are reasonable adjustments?

When organisations employ disabled workers, they must put in place reasonable adjustments at work to:

  1. Remove substantial disadvantage (more than minor or trivial). This is where a provision criteria or practice puts a disabled person at a disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled;
  2. Provide an auxiliary aid. This is where not having an auxiliary aid would put a disabled person at a significant disadvantage;
  3. Remedy any problem caused by a physical feature in the workplace.

Employers owe the duty to all workers and to job applicants at interview. 

Please note that there are strict rules about asking job applicants if they have disabilities.   

When must employers make reasonable adjustments at work?

The duty to make reasonable adjustments happens when an employer knows or should know that a person is disabled. 

The employer’s knowledge need not be formal. If other employees are aware of a disability, this is normally considered enough knowledge for the duty of the employer to make adjustments. 

If an employer fails to make reasonable adjustments then a person is entitled to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Defence

An employer has a defence to a claim for failure to make reasonable adjustments if it did not know or could not reasonably have been expected to know that an employee or applicant was disabled.

Reasonable expectation means situations in which an employer may not formally be aware that an employee is disabled but common sense should have led them to realise that there was some sort of physical or mental impairment.

Example: An employee who requests time off to attend numerous hospital appointments or asks to take several weeks off for treatment could have a condition (such as Cancer) which amounts to a disability.

An employer should ask questions and make sure adjustments are in place if they are needed.   A duty to make adjustments would arise regardless of whether the employee clearly informed that employer of a cancer diagnosis. 

Similarly, an employer could be expected to consider the possibility of a mental health condition, such as depression, for an employee who continually cries in the office.

Privacy and Dignity

Any questions that an employer needs to ask to establish whether a person has a disability should be made with a view to preserving the privacy and dignity of the employee.

What Adjustments Should an Employer make?

An employer is required to make all reasonable adjustments at work to remove the disadvantage a disabled person would experience compared to a person without a disability. 

Examples of possible steps are set out below but it is wise to remember that each case will be considered on its facts.

Examples of Reasonable Adjustments

  • Providing documents, handbooks and signs in large print for visually impaired staff
  • Access to disabled parking spaces;
  • Disregarding disability related sickness absence;
  • Provision of a disabled ramp to access the work canteen
  • Allowing a disabled person to park in the Directors’ car park;
  • Disregarding disability related sickness absence for the purpose of absence management;
  • Allowing time off for disability related hospital appointments;
  • Providing text to speech software for a dyslexic employee;
  • Allowing a disabled person to have a workspace on the ground floor or closer to the disabled lavatory;
  • Installing a wider door to allow wheelchair access;
  • Improving floor coverings to prevent slips by users of canes and crutches;
  • Providing information in large print for visually impaired users;
  • Providing sign language interpreters for disciplinary hearings or redundancy consultations.

What Adjustments are Reasonable for an Employer to make?

Clearly, unreasonable steps to remove a disadvantage should not be expected from the employer. 

For example, a company with two employees running out of a little office above a garage would probably not be expected to install a lift and a disabled lavatory. 

The Equality Act 2010 does not define what factors should be taken into consideration when deciding what is reasonable. 

Certainly, financial considerations will play a part. As well as, the practicability of any step and the potential disruption it could cause.

Whatever step is taken it must not cause health and safety issues for the disabled person or others. It must also be effective.  If a particular step would not remove the disadvantage then it is not reasonable to have to make ineffective alterations.

Should Employees without Disabilities be expected to do work that disabled employees cannot?

An employer can, and should, treat a disabled employee more favourably than other employees to remove a disadvantage. 

Asking other employees to undertake elements of work that a disabled person might find difficult. Or asking them to move their workspace might be reasonable. 

For example, in the case of Keane v United Lincolnshire NHS Trust  a deaf man won a case when he was refused a job because his hearing impairment meant he could not answer the phone at work.