A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a change to remove or reduce the effect of:
- an employee’s disability so they can do their job
- a job applicant’s disability when applying for a job
The reasonable adjustment could be to:
- the workplace
- the ways things are done
- get someone to help the employee or job applicant
Example of a change to the workplace
An employee who uses a wheelchair because of their disability has been struggling to get to the office because they can only manage to use the wheelchair for short distances. So the employer provides an accessible car parking space near the office entrance.
Example of a change to the way things are done
An employee with epilepsy can sometimes struggle with drowsiness and lack of energy in the mornings. So their employer agrees for the employee to start their working hours later when this happens.
Example of a change to get someone to help
An employee with an eyesight condition, certified as a disability, agrees with their employer for someone they work with to read their post to them.
When an employer must consider reasonable adjustments
By law, an employer must consider making reasonable adjustments when:
- they know, or could be expected to know, an employee or job applicant has a disability
- an employee or job applicant with a disability asks for adjustments
- an employee with a disability is having difficulty with any part of their job
- an employee’s absence record, sickness record or delay in returning to work is because of or linked to their disability
The employer must make the changes if they’re reasonable.
The employer must also consider reasonable adjustments for anything linked to an employee’s disability. For example, if an employer does not allow an assistance dog in the building for a partially sighted person, it’s likely to be discrimination.
What is reasonable
What’s ‘reasonable’ will depend on each situation. The employer needs to consider carefully if the adjustment:
- will remove or reduce the disadvantage for the person with the disability
- is practical to make
- is affordable by the employer or business
- could harm the health and safety of others
What the employer can consider changing
The employer must look at what they can do to reduce or remove the disadvantage for the person with a disability, such as:
- changing working arrangements, for example, the employee’s shift pattern
- removing something from the workplace, for example, bright lights above the employee’s workstation
- providing something in the workplace, for example, an accessible car parking space
- providing extra or specialised equipment
- getting someone in to help, for example, a sign-language interpreter
To help make the best decision, the employer could:
- get professional advice
- get quotes
- research different options
To help see what adjustments are needed, the employer and employee could agree to get an occupational health assessment.
Examples of reasonable adjustments
Examples of reasonable adjustments can include:
- providing the right type of phone for an employee who uses a hearing aid
- arranging for an interview to be held on the ground floor for a job applicant who uses a wheelchair
- replacing a desk chair with one designed for an employee who has a disability affecting their back
- giving more one-to-one support to help prioritise the work of an employee suffering from anxiety
- a phased return to work for an employee who’s been on long-term sick leave because of their disability
- allowing more frequent breaks for someone with diabetes to get the right amount of food or drink throughout the day
- giving more time for someone with dyslexia to do any written or reading tests that are part of the interview process
See more examples of reasonable adjustments on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.
Good practice for employers
It’s a good idea for the employer to focus on the reasonable adjustments they can make rather than trying to work out if an employee’s condition is a disability.
Find more advice from the Business Disability Forum.
The employer should make sure their workplace policies do not put employees with disabilities at a disadvantage.
For example, they might look at policies on working hours, working from home, shift patterns and managing sickness absence.
Keeping a record of reasonable adjustments
When an employer makes a reasonable adjustment for an employee, it’s a good idea for them to set up a ‘reasonable adjustments passport’.
This is an up-to-date record that the employee can show if any new management comes in, saving them having to go through the same process again.
It also helps employees and employers make sure the reasonable adjustment is:
- up to date
Find out more about reasonable adjustments passports from the Trades Union Congress.
When an employer might not have to make a change
The employer does not have to change the basic nature of the job for the person.
Toni works in a call centre and has type 1 diabetes. Toni often needs to use the toilet urgently, so they ask if they can come off the calls and do paperwork instead. The company does not have a paperwork-only job. Toni and their line manager meet to talk through options. These include giving a desk nearer the toilet and being flexible with breaks so Toni can manage their diabetes as they need. Toni is also given the option to review start and finish times in case early starts affect Toni’s management of their diabetes. The manager and Toni agree to review the new arrangements after a couple of weeks to see if they’re helping.
If an employer is not sure if they must make an adjustment for someone with a disability, they should get legal advice first.
Who covers the costs
The employer is responsible for paying for any reasonable adjustments.
Many adjustments can be simple and affordable. But a small business might not be able to afford the same level of adjustments as a big company.
An employer does not have to make adjustments that are unreasonable but should still try to find other ways to support the employee.
An employee who uses a wheelchair asks for a lift to be installed so the upper floor of their work building is accessible. When the employer looks into the costs, they work out that they’d go out of business if they went ahead with the work. In this case they can turn down the request. They should still see if they can make any other adjustments, for example agreeing for the employee to work entirely on the ground floor.
If an employer cannot afford a reasonable adjustment, the employee with a disability might be able to apply for funding through the government’s Access to Work scheme.
Need help understanding reasonable adjustments? Contact Beagle HR today
This article has been adapted from the ACAS website