The Equality Act 2010 places an obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments for both disabled job applicants and employees. A common question for employers is what constitutes a reasonable adjustment and how far do they have to go to accommodate the needs of a disabled employee. This note examines the requirement to make reasonable adjustments and, in particular, what adjustments are considered reasonable.
What adjustments are reasonable?
The test of reasonableness is objective and will be determined by the tribunal on a case by case basis. An employer will not breach the requirement to make an adjustment unless the adjustment is deemed ‘reasonable.’ In assessing whether the adjustment is reasonable, tribunals must interpret the law consistently with the Framework Directive which states that there is no duty to take measures that would impose a “disproportionate burden on the employer“.
What factors will be considered when determining reasonableness?
The former Disability Discrimination Act 1995 set out the following factors that had to be considered when determining whether an adjustment was reasonable.
- The extent to which the adjustment would have improved the disadvantage.
- The extent to which the adjustment was practicable.
- The financial and other costs of making the adjustment, and the extent to which the step would have disrupted the employer’s activities.
- The financial and other resources available to the employer.
- The availability of external financial or other assistance.
- The nature of the employer’s activities and the size of the undertaking.
The above factors do not feature in the more recent Equality Act 2010 but they are referenced in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Code as factors that ought to be considered; thus, providing some useful guidance for employers.
Potential adjustments that could be made
The EHRC Code also provides some useful examples on what adjustments could be made by an employer. The list is not exhaustive, but the following demonstrates some of the steps that may be taken: –
- Structural or other physical changes such as widening a doorway, providing a ramp or moving furniture for a wheelchair user;
- Reallocating duties a disabled employee cannot do;
- Altering working hours or allowing flexible working to accommodate needs of disabled employees;
- Allowing regular breaks to overcome fatigue arising from their disability;
- Allowing an employee to be absent during working hours for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment due to their disability;
- Acquiring or modifying equipment to assist with impairments. This could include a larger screen for the visually impaired or a specialist keyboard for arthritis sufferers.;
- Changing or adapting current policies and procedure and staff training to ensure that services work equally well for people with disabilities; or
- Change of work location – for example, to be nearer home, or nearer support facilities, or to a work location that is quieter or less over-stimulating.
Employers need to be alert to the fact that there is an on-going duty to make reasonable adjustments and careful consideration should be given to the factors listed above. The duty arises when a disabled employee is put at substantial disadvantage in comparison to individuals who are not disabled and the duty arise at any time before, during or after the employment relationship.
If there is any uncertainty as to whether or not an adjustment is required or whether an adjustment is in fact reasonable, then it is recommended that legal advice is sought as soon as possible. Failure to carry out reasonable adjustments can give rise to discrimination claims.