Last reviewed: 5 October 2022
What are ‘reasonable adjustments’?
‘Reasonable adjustments’ are changes to the working environment or working arrangements needed by a disabled person so that they can do the job as well as possible. The term reasonable adjustment comes from the Equality Act 2010, but they are also known as workplace adjustments or accommodations. We also refer to them simply as ‘changes.’
Why do employers have to make reasonable adjustments?
Employers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees or potential employees who apply for jobs. The purpose of adjustments is to remove or reduce barriers to a disabled employee performing the job well. Failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people could be disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Are adjustments expensive?
The average cost of a reasonable adjustment is £75 per individual, and many are less expensive or even free – for example, changing start and finish times or allowing someone to work sitting down.
Who pays for reasonable adjustments and is there any help with the cost?
It is the employer’s responsibility to pay for and implement reasonable adjustments. But a Government scheme called Access to Work can help meet some or all the cost.
When does an employer have to make a reasonable adjustment?
Employers must make reasonable adjustments when they know, or could reasonably be expected to know, that an employee is experiencing difficulties or barriers at work because of a disability. Some disabled people will tell an employer that they have a disability and might even know the adjustment they need. In other cases, however, it will be the employer who instigates the conversation. Employers should talk to employees struggling at work or if an employee has been off sick for a while and ask if any changes might help them with their work.
How can an employer know that someone is disabled?
It can be difficult to know if someone meets the legal definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010. That definition is broad and complex and only a court can ultimately decide if someone is or is not disabled. Doctors or other medical professionals cannot tell employers if someone is legally disabled or not.
The best approach – because it is the least expensive, time-consuming and legally risky – is to consider whether someone is disabled if they are having difficulties doing some aspect of their job. You should then talk to them about making changes that are ‘reasonable’ – see below for what this means’ – to overcome the difficulties or barriers. That way, as an employer, you will have treated your employees fairly and hopefully enabled them to do the job to the best of their ability which is what you need from them.
What might be a reasonable adjustment in the workplace?
Reasonable adjustments could be changes to working arrangements, for example:
- Starting and finishing work earlier or later
- Working from a different location or from home
- Working fewer hours or different shifts
- Working standing up or sitting down
- Communicating by email, text or SMS rather than telephone if someone has hearing loss or is Deaf
- Emailing documents rather than printed out copies for someone who has sight loss so they can make the print bigger or have the text read out to them by a screen reader.
Reasonable adjustments might also be changes to the physical working environment and/or equipment, for example:
- Technology like a screen reader that reads out text on a screen to people who find it difficult to see or read screens because they have, for example, sight loss or dyslexia
- A portable or permanent ramp to enable a wheelchair to get into and around a space
- A spring on a heavy door to make it easier to open
- Having a car parking space near the entrance reserved for someone who finds it difficult to walk or is a wheelchair user.
What makes an adjustment ‘reasonable’?
If the adjustment or change to the working arrangements or environment work for both the employer and the employee, the adjustment is reasonable. There are no hard and fast rules. When thinking about whether an adjustment is reasonable employers should think about
- Whether the adjustment will work – will it remove or reduce the barrier that the disabled person is experiencing?
- How practical is it to implement the adjustment or change?
- How much the adjustment will cost if anything?
- Whether there is help available to make the adjustment – for example, from Access to Work.
- Whether the adjustment will be disruptive for other employees or clients/customers.
- If there are any health and safety concerns either for the disabled person or other people in making the adjustment.
What should employers do if reasonable adjustments don’t work or enable an employee to do the job?
In this case, employers should take expert advice from a lawyer or disability organisation to ensure that they have considered all possible reasonable adjustments before taking any action towards dismissal. If this is not done employers risk both unfair dismissal and disability discrimination claims.
Employers should note that there is no qualifying period for disability discrimination claims – they can be made as soon as an employee starts working or before if they do not get a job because of their disability.
BDF Members and Partners can contact our Advice Service if they are unsure about how to act in a particular situation.
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