Acas uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience and to make the site simpler. Find out more about cookies.

Website URL : https://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6074

Reasonable adjustments in the workplace

What are reasonable adjustments and what does the law say about an employer's duty to make them? This guidance looks at how employers can assist disabled workers and job applicants and how disabled workers and job applicants can request reasonable adjustments.

Content

Overview

In a government survey, one in five people in the UK (13.9 million) said they had a disability. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Impairment means condition. It may be physical, mental or both. But whether a condition is a disability will, in most cases, depend on all the facts and circumstances of the individual case. Long-term means lasting at least a year, or likely to be for the rest of the person's life or recurring.

An employer must make adjustments for a disabled worker or job applicant if they are reasonable.

What is a reasonable adjustment?

Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers should also make sure policies and practices do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.

When must an employer make reasonable adjustments?

An employer must consider making reasonable adjustments, involving the disabled worker or successful job applicant in the discussion about what can be done to support them and the decision, if:

  • it becomes aware of their disability
  • it could reasonably be expected to know they have a disability
  • the person asks for adjustments to be made
  • the worker is having difficulty with any part of their job
  • either the worker's sickness record, or their delay in returning to work, is linked to their disability.

What does reasonable mean?

What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. And it will depend on an assessment of factors including:

  • Is the adjustment practical to make?
  • Does the employer have the resources to pay for it?
  • Will the adjustment be effective in overcoming or reducing the disadvantage in the workplace?
  • Will the adjustment have an adverse impact on the health & safety of others?

The size of an employer can be a factor. An employment tribunal may expect more from a large organisation than a small one because it may have greater means.

Also, whether the employer has access to other funding, such as the Government's Access to Work scheme, could be another factor. The employer is responsible for paying the cost. Find out more about Access to Work at www.gov.uk/access-to-work - it can help with advice and, depending on circumstances, some costs.

An employer is not required to change the basic nature of a job. And if there are times when suggested adjustments are unreasonable, an employer could lawfully refuse to make them. However, before refusing, it should be sure of its case. The Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100 can offer advice.

Deciding what reasonable adjustments need to be made

In assessing what reasonable adjustments need to be made, the three main questions an employer should consider are:

  • Does the employer need to change how things are done - for example, any work practices or policies?
  • Does the employer need to physically change the workplace?
  • Does the employer need to provide extra equipment or get someone to assist the disabled worker or job applicant in some way?

What might some reasonable adjustments look like?

Many adjustments will be simple and inexpensive. Some examples might include:

  • a special chair because of back problems
  • a special keyboard because of arthritis
  • a ramp for a wheelchair user
  • changing working hours or patterns of work
  • a phased return after sick leave
  • a designated car park space
  • modifying sickness absence triggers - these are the number of days' absence when managers consider warnings, and possible dismissal, unless attendance at work improves
  • modifying performance targets.

Also, the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Employment Statutory Code of Practice gives examples of reasonable adjustments on www.equalityhumanrights.com.

Employers should remember the aim of an adjustment is to take away or minimise the disadvantage because of the person's disability so they can do their job or apply for one.

How can a worker request a reasonable adjustment?

Workers should bear in mind that an employer only has to make reasonable adjustments for a worker when it is aware, or could be expected to know, they have a disability.

A worker should ask to talk to their manager/employer about the matter. A meeting can provide a worker with the opportunity to explain the situation more clearly and suggest possible adjustments. It will help the employer understand how best they can support and help the worker. It is likely to be beneficial to have an agreed outcome confirmed in writing.

Making reasonable adjustments for job applicants

As standard practice, an employer should ask all job applicants whether they need any reasonable adjustments for any part of the recruitment process. An employer must make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process if the:

  • job applicant has indicated a disability in their application, or told the employer they have a disability
  • employer becomes aware of the disability
  • the applicant asks for reasonable adjustments.

But employers should bear firmly in mind that none of this is the same as asking an applicant if they are disabled - which they should not do, as asking could imply potential discrimination.

Before offering a job, the employer must only ask a disabled applicant what reasonable adjustments are needed:

  • for any part of the recruitment process and, once those are in place, whether they are suitable, and/or
  • to determine whether the applicant could carry out a function essential to the role with the reasonable adjustments in place.

Only after offering the job, should an employer ask the successful applicant what adjustments they will need to do the job and progress at work.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments

An employer failing to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled job applicant or worker is one of the most common types of disability discrimination.

If a worker or job applicant feels they have been discriminated against, they can make a claim of disability discrimination to an employment tribunal. However, it's best they talk to the employer first to try to resolve the issue informally. Having a discussion can often help the employer to understand the issues and concerns, and help to resolve the matter quickly and before it escalates further.