In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to allow employees and job applicants with disabilities to achieve their full potential and minimise any disadvantages in the workplace resulting from their disabilities. Implementing reasonable adjustments creates a fair and equitable workplace and a culture of inclusion for employees of all abilities.
What are Reasonable Adjustments?
Reasonable adjustments are changes made to accommodate and reduce the disadvantages of disabled people in the workplace. Job applicants, workers, contractors and employees all qualify for reasonable adjustments.
Disability is a protected characteristic under UK law and employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of their disability.
Employers are also required to take positive steps to implement reasonable adjustments to minimise disadvantages that may be conferred on disabled job applicants and employees in the workplace as a result of their disability.
By law, the employer's duty is triggered if an employer's provision, criterion or practice (PCP) (e.g. the employer's standard working hours), a physical feature of the workplace or an employer's failure to provide the disabled person with an auxiliary aid would place the employee or applicant at a substantial disadvantage.
Importantly, however, the duty is only triggered if the employer knows, or reasonably ought to know, of the disability and its potential to place the employee at a substantial disadvantage compared with other employees. Also, the disability must correspond with the statutory definition of "disability" as set out by the Equality Act 2010 (the disability must be a physical or mental impairment and must have a substantial effect on the affected person's ability to perform everyday tasks).
If all these conditions are satisfied and the employer decides not to implement reasonable adjustments, the affected employee can bring a disability discrimination claim against the employer at an employment tribunal.
Requesting Reasonable Adjustments
An employee who needs reasonable adjustments made must ask for these. The employer must be given information relating to the disability and which adjustments are most likely to help the employee go about their work with minimal hindrance.
Whether an adjustment is reasonable will likely depend on the size and resources of the employer and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Even where the original adjustment asked for is unreasonable in light of the employer's capabilities, the employer should take all possible steps to ensure that all other reasonable adjustments are implemented. For example, if the employer cannot install wheelchair ramps throughout the workplace, the employee should be allowed to work on the floor that is best equipped to provide accessible mobility in a wheelchair.
Employees should be actively consulted during the implementation process and their preferences should be taken into account. Employers can also consider consulting with the employee's union representative or health provider.
Employers cannot pass on the costs of implementing reasonable adjustments to the employee, but the government's Access to Work grants can cover these costs if the employee applies for a grant.
Implementing Reasonable Adjustments
Many workplace adjustments cost very little to implement. Making reasonable adjustments can be as simple as the provision of speech-to-text computer software and accessible parking spots or the installation of a wheelchair ramp. Employers can also allow employees with service dogs to bring their dogs to work or hire an occupational health team, support worker or a disability employment adviser to provide employees with support when needed.
Flexible working or working from home can also qualify as reasonable adjustments. Other workplace adjustments are more costly and difficult to implement, but as long as they are reasonable to implement, employers should make every effort to ensure that this is done.
Many reasonable adjustments are also easy to implement across all areas of work, including the recruitment process. For example, job applicants who qualify for reasonable adjustments could be given more time than other applicants to complete any recruitment and interview tasks.
The Bottom Line
There is no one-size-fits-all reasonable adjustment and employers should make every effort to implement reasonable adjustments when these are requested. This will help create a safe and productive work environment and will ensure that employers provide fair opportunities to all employees.
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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.