Reasonable Adjustments in the Workplace

Reasonable Adjustments At WorkReasonable adjustments at work can be a complicated area. If your employer fails in its duty to implement reasonable adjustments this may also amount to disability discrimination.

The failure to make reasonable adjustments refers to a breach of the employer’s duty to ensure that workers are not substantially disadvantaged because of their disability at work when compared to those who do not. The Equality Act 2010 calls this the duty to make reasonable adjustments.  

Disability Discrimination In Work occurs when an employer fails to comply with its duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Below we provide an overall understanding of what reasonable adjustments are.

Reasonable Adjustments At Work – When does the duty arise?

Employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to ensure that disabled workers and job applicants are not substantially disadvantaged in the workplace.

A reasonable adjustment is a change deliberately designed to remove any barriers that an employee may be facing because of:

  • A physical feature of the workplace premises. This relates to the layout of the premises. For example access to a disabled toilet for a wheelchair. 
  • A failure to provide an auxiliary aid which could relate to the sourcing of software or extra equipment for someone who is deaf.
  • A provision, criterion or practice. This typically refers to working arrangements such as shift patterns or working hours.

The Act also states that where the provision, criterion or practice or the need for an auxiliary aid relates to the provision of information, the employer must make adjustments to ensure the information is accessible. This could be through specific equipment ie. signs in Braille.

What Disadvantage Gives Rise To the Duty To Make Reasonable Adjustments?

For the duty to arise, where a PCP, physical feature of premises or the absence of auxiliary aid puts a disabled person at a “substantial disadvantage” compared to people that are not disabled. A substantial disadvantage is one that is more than minor or trivial. 

Who Is Eligible For Reasonable Adjustments?

The legal duty placed on an employer to make reasonable adjustments is owed to both workers and applicants. However, an individual must prove they meet all aspects of the legal definition of a disability.

The employer is expected to make reasonable adjustments if they know, or could reasonably be expected to know, that a worker has a disability and is, or is likely to be, placed at a substantial disadvantage.

Keeping a disability confidential means that unless the employer could reasonably be expected to know about it, the employer has no duty to make a reasonable adjustment. Therefore, to be eligible the following has to apply:

(1) You are a worker or applicant.

(2) You have a disability.

(3) The employer has knowledge of the disability.

(4) The employer has knowledge of the substantial disadvantage.

What Amounts To A Disability?

An individual will be treated as having a disability if they can show they have:

“a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

We have more information on disability discrimination and meeting the definition of disability HERE.

What Makes An Adjustment Reasonable?

The employer must establish the nature of the employee’s impairment and the type of adjustments needed to support them. The Act does not specify any factors that should be taken into account and there is no onus on the disabled worker to suggest adjustments (although it is good practice for employers to ask).

What is reasonable depends on each situation. There are factors that an employer should consider like whether taking any particular steps would be effective in preventing the substantial disadvantage, the practicability of the step, the costs of making the adjustment and the employer’s access to resources.

Can Failure To Make Reasonable Adjustment Ever Be Justified?

An employer cannot justify any failure to make reasonable adjustments, so there is no defence to this type of claim. However, an employer can argue that the adjustment in question was not reasonable. Therefore, if the duty to make reasonable adjustments is live, the main question to any specific adjustment is one of “reasonableness, to determine if the adjustment to be made.

What Are Examples Of Reasonable Adjustments?

The employer should conduct a proper assessment, in consultation with the disabled person concerned, of what reasonable adjustments may be required.

 Here below are some examples of reasonable adjustments.

  • Changing the lighting above someone’s desk or workstation.
  • Changing the layout of a work area or the entrance to a building.
  • Providing a reader or interpreter.
  • Providing a wheelchair-accessible toilet.
  • Providing an accessible car parking space.
  • Giving additional time for someone with dyslexia to complete any written interview tests.
  • Modifying performance-related pay arrangements for a disabled worker.
  • Amending internal policies, such as the “trigger” points in a capability procedure.
  • Changing the start or end time of shifts.
  • Amending the frequency and length of breaks.

This is by no means an ‘exhaustive list’. There is an array of adjustments that can be applied in different circumstances. Whether the above are “reasonable” will be fact specific.

Key Points

Some additional key points for reasonable adjustments at work are:

  • The duty applies to all sizes of employers (it is not something that only applies to larger companies).
  • However, the size of the employer will be relevant when assessing whether the adjustment in question is reasonable or not.
  • The employee should never be asked to pay for the adjustment.
  • The duty can arise at any point, including from the recruitment stage.

Reasonable Adjustments At Work – Tips

If you are concerned about reasonable adjustments in work, here are some general points to consider:

  • The duty to make reasonable adjustments only arises if the employer has knowledge of (1) your disability and (2) the substantial disadvantage. Therefore, if you need an adjustment, you need to make sure your employer is fully aware.
  • Think carefully about the substantial disadvantage and the various way to alleviate it. Where you are not obligated to come up with your own reasonable adjustments, you are generally more likely to get something in place if you ask for it (although make sure it is a reasonable request).
  • If adjustments are not being put in place, remember to act quickly, as Tribunal claims have short time limits – see more information on time limits HERE.
  • Reasonable adjustments/disability discrimination can be complicated, which is why professional advice is recommended.

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