A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a change or adaptation to the working environment that has the effect of removing or minimising the impact of the individual’s impairment in the workplace, so they are able to undertake their job role, or apply for a job, without being at a disadvantage.

What the law says

Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in three senarios:

  • where a provision, criterion or practice applied by or on behalf of the employer,
  • where a physical feature of premises occupied by an employer, or
  • where the lack of an auxiliary aid,

places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled. It is the employer’s responsibility to consider if any adjustments are required as soon as they are aware that a person has a disability. It is not sufficient to wait for an individual to ask for what they need.

If you decide it’s necessary to talk to somebody about their health or disability and if it’s affecting their work, your overall aim is to understand how they can perform to the best of their ability and what you can do to make this happen.

An employer should not try to get somebody to disclose a health condition or disability (they’re not legally obliged to do so) or invade their privacy by asking unnecessary questions about their health.

  • Allocating some duties to another person
  • Transferring the disabled person to an existing and more appropriate post
  • Altering the disabled person’s working hours
  • Purchasing a special keyboard because of arthritis
  • Enabling a gradual return after a long period of sickness
  • Acquiring new, or modifying existing equipment
  • Including a disabled parking space in the car park
  • Providing additional supervisory guidance / support
  • Providing literature in large print
  • Allowing a guide or hearing dog into the workplace
  • Discounting disability-related sickness leave for the purposes of absence management
  • Making changes to the location of the interview
  • Adapting the environment, for example to enable wheelchair access or to dim down the lights for someone with epilepsy
  • Providing an interpreter, for example for a candidate who communicates using sign language.
  • Arranging the interview at a particular time. A candidate could have a condition that causes tiredness at certain times of the day, they need to take medication or eat at specific times, or they have difficulty using public transport during rush hour.

What is considered ‘reasonable’?

An employer is only expected to make an adjustment if it is considered to be ‘reasonable’.

They is entitled to take into account all circumstances when deciding what steps it would be reasonable to take. This includes:

  • Effectiveness

Will the adjustment prevent the disadvantage? It is important not to make assumptions about what will be effective. Possible adjustments should be discussed with the individual and never imposed. In most cases, the person with a disability will have a better understanding of what measures will help and should be fully involved in the discussion.

  • Practicality

How practical is it to make an adjustment? Would it help other members of staff?

  • Costs

How much will the adjustment cost and will it disrupt any of the organisation’s activities? What resources are available and what other assistance/support is available? In reality, many reasonable adjustments cost little or nothing to implement.

  • Nature of employer’s activity and size of undertaking

What may be reasonable in a very large company may not necessarily be so in a very small company.

  • The reasonable adjustment duty on an employer is not ‘anticipatory’.

This means that you are not expected to provide a range of adjustments to your premises in anticipation that one day you might employ a person with a specific disability. Also, you are not subject to the reasonable adjustment duty if you do not know, and could not reasonably be expected to know, that an individual has a disability.

A disabled employee might request that you build a special ramp for wheelchair access to your offices. Having considered this you might decide it to be unfeasible in cost and practical terms to make structural alterations to the building, but you might decide that you can have a temporary ramp available and someone ready to assist with entry and exit to the building. In doing so you would have complied with the law because you provided a workable solution that is reasonable in the circumstances.

A new supervisor is recruited to manage a team. Shortly after their appointment, they become aware that the team Receptionist has recently had many intermittent days off sick and is often late for work. During a catch-up, the supervisor discusses the sickness absence with the staff member and asks if everything is ok. The staff member explains they have rheumatoid arthritis. They experience worse symptoms in the morning, and so need more time to get ready to leave the house. Their condition also leaves them feeling very fatigued, making the journey to work at rush hour exhausting. Moreover, as the condition fluctuates, they are often unable to predict when they will feel unwell.

The new manager asks the member of staff what they can do or change to help. The staff member suggests a later start and earlier finishing time will help them manage the early morning symptoms of their condition. The line manager agrees and arranges for another member of staff to cover the Reception desk during these hours. The supervisor also ensures that any further absence related to the staff member’s condition is registered as disability leave, so that their annual appraisal will not be affected by levels of sickness absence that are higher than average.

Discuss and explore options

When an employer is considering a reasonable adjustment, they need to discuss the circumstances with the person so they can establish what is needed. However, the question of what is a reasonable adjustment is an objective one. It does not mean an employer must comply with every requirement asked of them by a disabled person but explore what they can reasonably do to avoid any disadvantage caused by his or her disability.

If it is clear that there isn’t an adjustment that can reasonably be made to avoid a disadvantage, then the request can be lawfully declined. You are only required to make adjustments that are reasonable in all the circumstances. Factors such as the cost and practicability of making an adjustment and the resources available to you may be taken into account in deciding what is reasonable.

If you fail to make a reasonable adjustment when you are under a duty to do so, the Equality Act 2010 treats that as discrimination. This means you could become liable to pay damages were a successful claim to be brought in an Employment Tribunal. Ultimately, it is for them to decide, in the event of a claim of alleged unlawful disability discrimination, what adjustment should be made for a particular disabled employee, and whether an employer is allowed to decline to make an adjustment on grounds of practicality or cost.