Skip to content

23 November 2018

What is a disability and when should ‘reasonable adjustments’ be made?

3 mins

A failure to make reasonable adjustments is the most common form of disability discrimination.

You must always be aware of the needs of your workforce and consider what can be done to ensure all employees are effectively able to carry out their contractual duties.  

What is a disability?

A disability can be either a physical or mental impairment. In order to qualify as a disability the condition must have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities. You are best to seek advice on what is considered ‘long term.’    

There are some conditions that automatically qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010 including cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis. People with progressive conditions are immediately classified as disabled.  

What are reasonable adjustments?

As an employer you are obliged to take steps to avoid or lessen the disadvantage that a disabled person experiences whilst working for you. These steps are known as “reasonable adjustments.”  

A reasonable adjustment can be changing or adapting the working environment, altering a policy or practice or providing an auxiliary aid e.g.

  • Providing a ramp or widening a doorway for a wheelchair user;
  • Altering internal décor and/or providing more lighting and clearer signs for a visually impaired person;
  • Modifying performance targets;
  • Permitting a member of staff to have a designated parking space;
  • Allowing flexible or part time working;
  • Providing special equipment such as adapted desks, chairs or keyboards;
  • Employing a support worker to assist an employee with learning difficulties; or
  • Providing information in accessible format (braille or audio CD)

When should reasonable adjustments be made?

Your duty only applies when you know or should have known about the employee’s disability.

Reasonable steps must be taken to ascertain whether an employee is disabled; it is not solely the employee’s responsibility to inform you. As an employer you are expected to exercise your own judgement and cannot simply rely on occupational health reports or reports from medical advisers. 

What is deemed ‘reasonable’?

When considering whether an adjustment is reasonable you should take into account:

  • The practicality of the adjustment;
  • The organisation’s resources;
  • The likely effect on the employee; and
  • Any adverse impact on other employees

 An employee cannot be expected to pay for the reasonable adjustment.

Access to Work scheme

An employee may benefit from the government initiative Access to Work which can provide financial support for reasonable adjustments in the workplace. 

How can we help you?

We are here to help. If you have any questions for us, please get in touch below.