Employer responsibilities for reasonable adjustments
Making reasonable adjustments in the workplace applies to the entire workforce. This includes trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners. Failure to make these adjustments can result in tribunal action from an employee.
Legal responsibilities for employers
Employers have to make changes to the workplace if disabled employees need them. These are called reasonable adjustments.
Adjustments can include:
- making physical adaptations to the building or equipment
- changing work hours and providing flexible working
- allowing employees to work from home
- getting specialised equipment or modifying existing equipment
- allowing rehabilitation or treatment during work hours
- providing extra training and updating work manuals
- providing an interpreter or personal assistant
- adjusting responsibilities to fit abilities and skillsets, where possible
An employer does not have to change the basic nature of the job.
What is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment?
There is no set definition of ‘reasonable’. A reasonable adjustment will change from company to company. What is considered reasonable for one company may not be reasonable for another.
An occupational health assessment can help an employer understand what is reasonable. Assessments can also support employees who become disabled during working age. They can help find adjustments when employees are not sure what support they might need.
But it’s important to note these assessments can ask personal questions. Disabled people often give negative feedback about the assessments. While they’re helpful, using them must come down to the individual and situation.
Adjustments should always focus on how you can remove or reduce barriers. But if you need support to work out if an adjustment is reasonable, look at:
- if the changes are practical to make
- how disruptive the changes will be to the business
- if the changes are affordable
- if the changes harm the health and safety of others
Failure to make reasonable adjustments
Failure to make reasonable adjustments is unlawful discrimination. If an employment tribunal finds an employer has discriminated against an employee, they may have to pay damages.
An employee can make an informal complaint if they feel their adjustments are not met. This complaint could be to their line manager or Human Resources (HR). They can also raise a formal grievance.
An employee can also take their employer to a County Court or an employment tribunal.
How is disability defined?
The Equality Act 2010 defines disability. It says it’s an impairment that has a ‘substantial and long-term adverse effect’ on doing day-to-day activities.
The definition of an ‘impairment’ is very broad. An employee’s impairment may not stop them from carrying out a task. It just makes it harder for them to carry out tasks. It is also considered an impairment if the task causes them pain or emotional distress.
Some examples of impairments which might need workplace adjustments include:
- Sight loss
- Multiple sclerosis
- Physical impairments
- Learning difficulties like ADHD or dyslexia
What is not considered an impairment?
There are some impairments that you do not have to make reasonable adjustments for. These include:
- tattoos and piercings
- addictions to alcohol, nicotine, and other substances
Addiction caused by medical treatment or prescribed drugs can still be considered impairments.
How long does an employer have to make reasonable adjustments?
You must consider making adjustments as soon as you are reasonably expected to know about an employee’s impairment. Or after they ask for a workplace adjustment.
The timescale will depend on the specific adjustment and company. Some simpler workplace adjustments can be made quickly. These can include:
- providing longer or more frequent breaks
- moving an employee to a ground floor desk
- allowing for more time off for treatment
Other adjustments will take longer because of installation times or costs. These can include:
- changes to the building like widening doorways and adding ramps
- providing a height adjustable desk
When are you ‘reasonably expected to know’ about an impairment?
Not all impairments are visible and employees do not have to tell you they need an adjustment. They do not need to give you any medical notes. But you’re still expected to reasonably know an adjustment is needed.
Reasonable knowledge of impairments will be different for every employee. These can include:
- if they have regular patterns of absence
- you know about disability tax credits
- occupational health workplace assessments
Employees may not be comfortable talking to you about their condition or impairment. But you should always look to make adjustments if it can help their performance.
Talk to the employee about why you think a workplace adjustment would benefit them. Work with them to find a workplace adjustment that meets their needs.
When can an employee ask for adjustments?
Legally, any employee can ask for an adjustment if their impairment gives them a ‘substantial’ disadvantage. This can be for a new impairment or a pre-existing condition. This applies to new starters and long-term staff members.
This disadvantage could be because of:
- a lack of features on work premises, such as ramps and handrails
- no ‘auxiliary aids’ provided, such as speech-to-text software or an accessible keyboard
- ‘provisions, criteria or practices’. For example, strict toilet break polices or staff start times
But we encourage businesses to go beyond the legal minimum. Not everyone will be defined as disabled by the equality act. Others may not yet have an official diagnosis. But they may have access needs. And simple adjustments can make them more productive employees. For example, written notes after meetings or extra time for specific tasks.
If an employee asks for an adjustment that supports them to do their work, it benefits everyone.
Workplace Adjustment Passports
We recommend organisations offer employees an Adjustment Passport. This is a document which outlines what support and changes they need. It can help employees keep a record of workplace adjustment conversations. It also outlines agreements made with employers.
This record can make it easier for employees and employers to work together to find reasonable adjustments. It also means they have the adjustments agreed with the organisation and not the manager. This means if they get a new manager or move roles, they do not have to go through the process again.
These passports are voluntary but we recommend them. Employees have control over what’s included and who this information is shared with. We recommend it should only note agreed adjustments. It shouldn’t include details of the impairment or condition.
Recruitment and the interview process
Legally, you must also make reasonable adjustments for disabled job applicants. The interview process must remove any barriers disabled candidates may experience. Interviewers can do this by offering accessible alternatives.
- providing a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter
- allowing candidates to interview remotely
- interviewing in a wheelchair accessible room
- allowing more time for interview tests
Reasonable adjustments for new starters
You should contact new starters and ask what they need before their start date. This might include details about workplace adjustments.
Processes for workplace adjustments should start before the employee joins. Some disabled people will already have the equipment and support they need. Others might need to apply for new support. Or they need help understanding what adjustments they need to do their job.
A Workplace Adjustment Specialist can help employees and employers find adjustments. An occupational health assessment can also offer advice.
What if reasonable adjustments cost too much?
Employers should consider the impact that not making an adjustment could have on the disabled employee. It could affect the employee’s wellbeing, their day to day performance and the quality of their work.
But sometimes, the cost of an adjustment is too high that it’s not reasonable for the employer to make it. What’s considered an ‘unreasonable’ cost will depend on the specific request. And the size and resources of the employer.
If a reasonable adjustment request costs too much, you should:
- talk to the employee about the cost and see if there are any other adjustments that can support them
- look for ways to reduce the cost of the adjustment, such as finding a cheaper alternative
Employees can also apply for a government grant called Access to Work. This scheme can help pay for workplace equipment and practical support.
Access to Work grants
Access to Work helps disabled people get or stay in work. The grant helps individuals get the practical support they need.
Businesses and employers cannot apply for the Access to Work grant. Employees apply for it but many are unaware of it or that they are eligible to apply.
The grant does not replace your legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments. But Access to Work might pay for:
- a British Sign Language interpreter
- specialist equipment
- extra transport costs, such as a taxi if no public transport is available
- workplace assessors to see what you need at work
Employers should help employees apply for Access to Work. This grant might cover their reasonable adjustment requests.