The types of workplace adjustments employers need to make to support disabled employees will vary. Each disabled person’s needs differ and so will the adjustments you need to make.

These can include simple adaptations to the building like installing handrails. Or providing long term support like a mentor. Whatever reasonable adjustment an employee needs, legally an employer must provide it.

Legal responsibilities for workplace adjustment from employers

We recommend that organisations go beyond the legal duty. These are usually called workplace adjustments instead of reasonable adjustments. They are not defined by the Equality Act 2010 but will support employees who need adjustments.

It’s still important that organisations meet their legal duty. Here are 4 real world case studies of employers not making reasonable adjustments. And the consequences of failing to do so. We have provided recommendations on how employers could have handled the situation differently.

Case study 1

A publishing company dismissed a long term employee for continued lateness. The employee had multiple sclerosis. He found it difficult to arrive on time due to mobility problems. The employee was fired in a meeting he had no notice of. Explaining his health problems had no effect on his dismissal.

The case was taken to an employment tribunal. The employee won £30,000 in compensation for disability discrimination.

How this should have been handled

The employer should have had a meeting with the employee about why they were often late. Adjustments could then be agreed. These might include:

  • a later start time
  • flexible hours
  • working from home options
  • longer and more frequent breaks

By talking to their employee, the employer could have come to an understanding. They could have then made an action plan to provide the best working environment.

Case study 2

The Environment Agency refused to provide a parking space for an employee with osteoarthritis. The employer thought this adjustment was unreasonable. They believed the employee should arrive earlier for a closer parking space.

The employment tribunal decided this was failing to make a reasonable adjustment. The employer was found guilty of disability discrimination.

How this should have been handled

By asking the employee to arrive earlier, the employer wrongly shifted the responsibility to the employee. The employee was being asked to make the adjustment. Making physical adaptations to the building falls under making reasonable adjustments.

Not providing enough disabled parking for employees also falls under UK Discrimination Law.

  • the employer should have provided the employee a dedicated parking space
  • if the employer felt this was unreasonable, a detailed written record should be kept

Records of unreasonable adjustment should outline why the adjustment is impractical. For example, if the adjustment affects other employees.

Case study 3

An employer failed to give a newly hired blind employee suitable training or equipment. The employer believed it would cost too much to update equipment and software. The employee was then not offered suitable alternative work.

The employee left the role and filed for ‘constructive unfair dismissal’. This is when an employee feels they have to resign because of something their employer has done. The employment tribunal ruled that it was unlawful discrimination.

How this should have been handled

The employer needed to make workplace adjustments when employing a blind person in a role designed for a sighted person. Without these adjustments, the employer ‘substantially disadvantaged’ them from carrying out their job. This is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Procedures the employer should have done to avoid discriminating against their employee:

  • spoken to the employee before their start date to talk about their needs
  • contacted a Workplace Adjustment Specialist for expert advice
  • offered an occupational health assessment if it would have provided useful insight
  • helped the employee apply for an Access to Work grant to cover the costs of new equipment
  • considered an alternative role suited to the employee’s skillset if no adjustment could be found

Case study 4

An employer refused to provide a stool for a cashier who had a hip replacement. Company policy stated that all employees should stand while serving customers. The employer felt it would be unfair to break this rule for 1 employee.

How this should have been handled

The employer did not make adaptions to company policy for a disabled employee. This is disability discrimination. Providing basic equipment would have allowed the employee to do their job effectively. And not disadvantaging them.

This situation highlighted to the employer that they need to make policy changes. They need to put in place procedures for handling the needs of disabled employees. This would help stop situations like this happening in future.

More workplace adjustment examples

Employees with the same impairment might need different adjustments. An employer might need to change a workplace adjustment dependent on the situation. It is important to always consider the employees needs so they are not at a disadvantage.

Providing a buddy

An autistic employee needed a workplace buddy to help them interact with colleagues. This person was a long term employee who knew the company well. They were also able to resolve misunderstandings between the disabled employee and staff members.

Experienced support workers can be brought in from outside the company. They can support with interaction as well as other tasks. Access to Work can help fund getting a support worker.

Providing an interpreter

A company holds an important meeting with all staff members about a recent takeover. One of these employees is deaf. Although they can lip read, a Sign Language Interpreter was hired.

This was a reasonable adjustment. Expecting the employee to rely on their lip reading would have disadvantaged them. Using an interpreter made sure they received the same information as everyone else.

Modifying interview procedures

An employer is interviewing for a new position. The interview process includes a written exam. For a dyslexic candidate, the employer makes the following adjustments:

  • extra time to complete the exam
  • specially printed exam on pastel coloured paper, larger font size and line spacing
  • the use of a laptop to for spelling
  • allowed text to speech software to help read certain words

These gave a candidate with a learning difference the same opportunity to prove their skills along with everyone else.

Changing job roles

An established employee developed a long-term back condition. This meant they became classified as disabled. They were now unable to perform their regular duties as an engineer.

The employer created new role delivering equipment and supporting engineers on site. The employee had a non-competitive interview to make sure they were suitable for the new role.

Creating a new role linked to the disabled employee’s skillset is a good example of a reasonable adjustment. A non-competitive interview allowed the employer and employee to talk through the role in a safe environment.

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