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When is a reasonable adjustment reasonable?

Disability discrimination law means that employers need to be flexible and proactive about making “reasonable adjustments” for employees with disabilities to allow them to do their job. There should be a level playing field between disabled and non-disabled employees so that as far as it is reasonable, steps are taken by employers to remove, reduce or prevent the obstacles a disabled employee could face at work.

If employers fail to make reasonable adjustments, employees with a disability can bring a claim for disability discrimination in an Employment Tribunal. Compensation for disability discrimination is unlimited.

Sometimes it will be clear that an employer has not made a reasonable adjustment for an employee where little has been done to help an employee who is absent from work due to a disability. At other times, an employer can point to steps taken to make reasonable adjustments. Many claims arise though when these steps look like little more than “window dressing”.

So what is a reasonable adjustment? This will vary from employer to employer and depends on the size of the employer and available resources.

Here are some examples of reasonable adjustments:

  • Allocating some of an employee’s duties to another person
  • Altering working hours
  • Adapting work premises
  • Acquiring additional equipment or modifying equipment
  • Modifying disciplinary or grievance procedures
  • Adjusting redundancy selection criteria
  • Allowing regular breaks
  • Changing an employee’s workplace
  • Offering training
  • Changing assessment processes
  • Including a disabled parking space in the car park

Employers must think outside the box and whilst employers may be more alert to the need to identify equipment and other physical changes that can be made to overcome barristers, some of the other adjustments referred to above can get overlooked.

It is wrong to assume that disabled employees will be absent from work any more than anyone else. However, disabled employees may need additional time off for treatment or for routine medical checks. It would be a reasonable adjustment to allow for this.

Employers can take into account the cost of making the adjustment and whether the adjustment will in reality make a difference. This is all part of the reasonableness question. However, reasonable adjustments do not need to cost the earth.

A common sense approach and open mind is a good place to start when thinking about making reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.

Comment first published on the Spinal injuries Association blog.