What adjustments are employers expected to make for a disabled employee?

  1. Disabled employee
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    AlanPrice Contributor, Peninsula Business Services Full Member

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    It is unlawful for employers to treat disabled individuals less favourably than a non-disabled individual. So that they are not treated unfavourably, an employer should work with the employee and try to remove any disadvantages that their disability creates.

    This duty can arise not only with employees, but with trainees, apprentices and even job applicants. For example, if the application process needs to be adjusted to remove a disadvantage they are under.

    Removing disadvantages and making adjustments

    Whether an employer is required to consider making adjustments depends on whether the employer knows or could have reasonably known that the employee is disabled under the definition of the Equality Act 2010.

    Even then, the employer is under a duty to make adjustments only if they are reasonable. This duty arises if the disabled employee is placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to other non-disabled colleagues. There is no precise definition of what a substantial disadvantage is, however, it is defined as more than just a minor or trivial disadvantage.

    Reasonable adjustments can take one of three forms:

    1. Changing the way things are done, such as changing or adapting policies, procedures and rules
    2. Changing the physical surroundings, such as installing a lift or facilities for disabled individuals
    3. Providing aids, such as computer software to help dyslexic employees

    For example, it may be a reasonable adjustment to allow an employee a phased return to work or arranging additional training to help an employee back into their role after long-term sickness absence.

    It could also include: installing a ramp or a lift for an employee who has recently become a wheelchair user; or providing a curved keyboard for an employee who cannot use a standard one due to their disability.

    Can adjustments be made without consulting the employee?

    If the employer is under a duty to consider reasonable adjustments they can do so without consulting the employee, however, doing so may be best as the adjustments aim to help the employee cancel out the disadvantage they are experiencing because of their disability.

    Asking for suggestions from the employee is best employment practice as the employee knows best what the disadvantage is and may have a solution which the employer has not thought of. However, it is important to be aware that employees do not need to make any suggestions of reasonable adjustments, but the duty on the employer to make one still remains.

    How do I know if adjustments are reasonable?

    When considering whether an adjustment is reasonable, an employer should consider how effective the change will be, how difficult it is to do it, how long it will take, what are the costs involved etc.

    There are no exceptions for small employers and, like large or medium-sized employers, the same duty still applies to them. However, what may be reasonable for one employer, may not be reasonable for another, particularly if they do not have as many resources to complete the adjustment.

    If facing a claim for failing to make reasonable adjustments, the employer may have a defense if they did not or could not have reasonably known that the employee is disabled or if the adjustment is not reasonable (not practicable, not timely or too costly). If the employer refuses to carry out an adjustment which is unreasonable, then they are not in breach of their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

    Employers should be aware that reasonable adjustments may have to be made as soon as a new employee starts work, though the course of employment or before an employee returns to work after time off, as some employees may already have a disability, whereas others may develop it as times goes on.

    Returning to work can be difficult for some employees, especially in circumstances where they have developed a disability. In this instance, employers should look to implement reasonable adjustments to remove any barriers which are preventing the employee from returning to their role.

  2. UKSBD

    UKSBD Not a real duck Staff Member

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    The big problem with reasonable adjustments and auxiliary aids is that if there are no official guidelines for them, people look at building regulations which are completely over the top and use this as an excuse to do nothing.

    As an example I sell wheelchair ramps

    Most ramp manufacturers and chair manufacturers say a 1:6 gradient is fine which means if you have an average step (15cm - 20cm) a little portable 1.2m ramp is perfectly adequate.

    What tends to happen though is people look for guidelines, find building regulations, read that they need a 1.2m square landing platform, 1:15 gradient ramp discover they can't put this in, and do nothing.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2016
    Posted: Aug 2, 2016 By: UKSBD Member since: Dec 30, 2005
  3. AlanPrice

    AlanPrice Contributor, Peninsula Business Services Full Member

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    @UKSBD -

    Your comments are a good illustration that employers are sometimes overwhelmed by the idea of reasonable adjustments – they commonly think that it will always involve major reworking to their current facilities at large cost.

    Talking to the particular employee involved is essential to gauge what exactly could help and the employer may be surprised at how simple and inexpensive the adjustment could be to accommodate; each disabled employee will have individual needs. Looking for the less drastic adjustments is important because these are the ones that a tribunal is likely to deem as ‘reasonable’ and therefore there would be a legal duty on the employer to make the change.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2016 By: AlanPrice Member since: Mar 16, 2016
  4. UKSBD

    UKSBD Not a real duck Staff Member

    9,059 1,694
    But without official guidelines how can an employer decide between what is safe and what is reasonable?

    Back to ramps again and assuming a 15cm step but only room for a 1.2m ramp.

    The employer provides a 1.2m ramp, the wheelchair user has an accident on it, building regulations say it should have been a 2.3m ramp = Employer in big trouble.

    Building regulations wouldn't actually apply, but without any other form of official guidance this is what people tend to use and the employer is faced with a dilemma;

    Provide a ramp with the risk that if anything goes wrong they are in big trouble
    Not provide a ramp citing that putting a ramp in wouldn't be safe.

    I see it all the time where people use safety grounds as an excuse to do nothing

    The trouble is, nobody wants to be the person who makes the final decision about whether to put it in or not, and who can blame them, as they effectively become the fall guy if anything goes wrong.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2016
    Posted: Aug 3, 2016 By: UKSBD Member since: Dec 30, 2005
  5. AlanPrice

    AlanPrice Contributor, Peninsula Business Services Full Member

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    It is areas like these where bespoke assistance on the employer’s individual circumstances is vital! You are right to point out that the practical application of the law places some employers in difficult positions.
    Posted: Aug 4, 2016 By: AlanPrice Member since: Mar 16, 2016
  6. DavidWH

    DavidWH UKBF Enthusiast Free Member

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    We don't have the issue with ramps as we have a massive roller door to a single level unit. We have recently ripped out the office, replacing 3 desks with 1 island desk to accommodate a member of staff. We wish we'd done this from day 1 as not only does it make it more accessible for them, we al have a much bigger work area.

    TBH we didn't look into the legalities of what were doing, but consulted with the staff member in question and came up with this solution that works for us all.
    Posted: Sep 9, 2016 By: DavidWH Member since: Feb 15, 2011