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EAT decision a reminder about employers' duty to make reasonable adjustments

A recent case before the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) is being held up as a reminder to employers about their legal obligations to people with disabilities.

The case centred on an employee who had been off work for several months because of depression and work-related stress. A psychiatrist recommended the employer pay for specialist therapy and psychiatric sessions to help facilitate her return to work. The employer failed to follow the recommendation, leading the employee to resign. The tribunal and EAT both upheld her claim for constructive dismissal.

Commentators have advised employers to remember that a disability does not only apply to physical impairments. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Under the legislation, employers have to make 'reasonable adjustments' in the workplace where a disabled person would otherwise be put at a substantial disadvantage compared with their colleagues.

Employers cannot legally justify a failure to comply with a duty to make a reasonable adjustment. But the adjustment has to be reasonable for that that duty to be considered breached. In other words, it's the reasonableness alone that determines if an adjustment has to be made.

What is 'reasonable' depends on the individual circumstances of the case and the size and resources of the employer. For example, an adjustment would have to be practicable, effective and within the scope of the employer's financial and human resources.

Adjustments could include changes to the workplace environment, provision of specialist equipment, changes to normal procedure (called in legislation 'provision, criterion or practice'), adjustments in performance targets or absence trigger points, implementation of flexible working practices, and opportunities for redeployment in alternative roles.

Many employers are troubled by the uncertainty about what is and is not reasonable. For small businesses operating on tight margins, the costs of adjustments can be critical and particularly problematic.

Acas offers an Equality and diversity advisory service to help all employers assess the effectiveness of current policies and practices relating disability discrimination. Acas experts can help you understand the specific needs of employees with disabilities, and advise on what constitutes a reasonable adjustment.

Acas also runs practical training courses on issues associated with Disability discrimination and Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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