At work - making reasonable adjustments

Whether you become disabled or develop a health condition while at work, had a disability or health condition to start with, or find your health or disability changes, it is important to know about what can make a difference to keep your job, gain promotion or help you to take on a new role.

If you don’t already have ‘reasonable adjustments’ at work, you may need changes to the support you get to help you do your job well, to gain new skills or if you get a new job. Sometimes you don’t need any particular changes to begin with but that can change if:

  • your job changes
  • your tasks change
  • your health or disability needs change
  • new technology or equipment could be of benefit to you
  • your employer moves location
  • you change the space you work in
  • new systems, policies, or procedures are brought in.

Read about access to work.

When to ask your employer for support

It is important to begin the process of getting help as soon as possible to prevent your performance from being affected or your condition from being made worse because you do not have the appropriate support available for your disability/health issue.

Your employer has a legal responsibility to help you but they can’t help unless they know there is an issue. You can talk to your line manager or to someone in your occupational health team, or human resources or employee welfare department. You can also discuss it at your appraisal or during a health and safety review.

How to identify a reasonable adjustment

Finding a ‘reasonable adjustment’ can be a creative process as there is no ‘one solution fits all’ method to use. You may be the best expert when it comes to your particular condition (unless you have recently acquired it) so, combined with your employer’s knowledge of the role and perhaps some expert advice, a very simple yet creative solution can often be found.

When talking to your employer, it may help if you have thought about possible solutions as well as problems.

You need to identify what is causing the difficulty for you.

  • Is it your physical surroundings, your chair, the lighting?
  • Is it your ability to do a part of your job because of your impairment?
  • Is it having to move equipment?
  • Is it taking part in training/meetings, perhaps because of communication issues?
  • Do you have too much to do and if so, is it causing you stress and anxiety?

Sometimes solutions are easy, and sometimes they are more complex. Occasionally, there may be no solution, but this is rare and in such circumstances, redeployment (taking up a different role) may be an option.

What is the duty to make reasonable adjustments?

The duty to make reasonable adjustments is a legal responsibility under the DDA. It applies to people such as employers, service providers and education providers and is intended to make sure that disabled people do not face substantial difficulties in employment, education or when using services. Failure to make reasonable adjustments can be a form of discrimination and is unlawful.

The DDA defines a reasonable adjustment as a reasonable step taken to prevent a disabled person suffering a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled. In the case of employers, for example, the duty applies to any disadvantage caused by a provision, criterion or practice applied by, or on behalf of, the employer, or any physical feature of premises occupied by the employer.

A ‘substantial disadvantage’ is one that is not ‘minor’ or ‘trivial’.

The term ‘provision, criterion and practice’ covers an employer’s policies on offering work, terms and conditions, managing and dismissing staff, and the way in which these are carried out.

What is an adjustment?

An adjustment, in the context of the DDA, is a change. This can be a physical change or a change in the way something is done.

We all like to do things in different ways, and these likes and dislikes will be based upon a whole range of factors. For example, if five people went out to buy a kettle for their kitchen, it’s likely they would return with five different kettles.

A person’s choice is determined by their needs and desires, and their particular circumstances. An older person with arthritis who lives on their own may buy a very different kettle from someone who lives in a large household with three young children. In a sense, we all make ‘adjustments’ in response to our individual needs when we make a choice.

Choice determines what we do and how we do it. If we have an impairment, we may choose to do things in a different way to reduce the effect of that impairment.

Example

Frieda is a 47-year-old woman with arthritis developing in her hands. She works as a receptionist in a doctor’s surgery. When the condition started five years ago, she found writing with a standard pen increasingly painful. Her manager ordered ‘sticky’ pens with a larger barrel, which Frieda found helpful. As her condition progressed, the manager changed the phone for a model without ‘fiddly buttons’. Later the manager also changed the way in which the work was allocated, so that a reception assistant took out all the patients’ files at the beginning of the sessions and re-filed them at the end because Frieda was no longer able to do this.

These adjustments meant that Frieda was able to continue to be an effective part of the team and that she was able to keep the job she had done admirably for 15 years. Frieda is clear that she does not want the arthritis to stop her ‘doing anything she wants to do’, but she is also clear that she does not want it to have a negative impact on anyone else. She says that she will leave her job rather than having her colleagues ‘carrying her’, and feels that the changes that have been made have ensured that this does not happen.

What does ‘reasonable’ mean?

The DDA does not define ‘reasonable’, or give a complete list of what reasonable adjustments may be. Ultimately it is up to the courts to decide. This is because an adjustment is related to a particular individual, their experience of their impairment and the situation they are in. However, it does set out four tests of reasonableness.

1. The effectiveness in preventing disadvantage

How much will a reasonable adjustment reduce the disadvantage? The more effective an adjustment is in reducing disadvantage, the more reasonable it is likely to be.

Example

Maria has restricted vision and works as a receptionist in a social services department. Every month she attends a departmental meeting in a room away from her workstation. The minutes of the meeting are usually printed in 12-point type, which Maria cannot read without her desktop magnification aids. The secretary prints out the minutes for Maria in 36-point type, which she is able to read in the meeting room with just her glasses. This simple adjustment is very effective in preventing the disadvantage that would otherwise occur.

2. The practicality of the step

It is more likely that an employer will be expected to take a step that is easy than to take a step that is hard.

If disadvantage can easily be removed by changing the way things are done, or the equipment that is used, then the adjustment is likely to be considered reasonable.

Example

Claire has a learning disability and is unable to read. She works as a cleaner in a residential home for older people. During her induction training, it became clear that she found it hard to tell which cleaning material was which. Her supervisor created a system of marking the bottles of cleaning fluid with different colours and buying cleaning cloths in the same colours.

Claire knew to use the bottle with the yellow spot and yellow cloth to clean the toilet, the bottle with the pink spot and the pink cloth for the furniture, and so on. This was a very effective method for Claire and an easy step for the employer to take. Claire’s confidence has grown as she is valued at work for the first time. She discusses anything she finds unclear and does not have to ‘hide the problems’ as she did in her previous employment for fear of being told off or laughed at.

3. The financial and other costs and the extent of any disruption caused

When trying to decide whether an adjustment would be reasonable, the cost of the adjustment and any disruption it might cause should also be considered.

Cost is not just about the price of making physical adaptations, for example, but also in terms of:

  • how experienced and skilled the employee concerned is;
  • the cost of replacing that employee;
  • how long the employee has been with the company (it is more likely to be reasonable to make an expensive adjustment for a permanent member of staff than a temp); and
  • whether the adjustment may be of benefit to other employees (disabled and non-disabled).

Example

William is a highly skilled draftsman who designs public areas in new office buildings. He had been working for his company for 10 years when he had a climbing accident which left him severely disabled, and unable to work for 18 months.

When he returned to work, it was on a part-time basis. With the support of the Access to Work team and a Workstep provider, his company identified alternative ways for William to do his job and provided enhanced computer hardware and software, training and travel to work support. The total cost of the package was over £20,000, most of which was paid for by the Access to Work Team.

As a result of the experience, the company used its knowledge of access for disabled people in its new designs, thus giving them an advantage over their competitors.

4. The extent of an organisation’s financial and other resources

An organisation with lots of money would be more likely to have to make a reasonable adjustment than one with fewer resources.

However, financial help from government schemes, such as Access to Work, is available to help in providing reasonable adjustments for employees. These funds must be taken into account when deciding how ‘financially reasonable’ an adjustment is.

The full financial resources of an organisation must be taken into consideration, not simply those of a particular site where an employee or service is based. For example, a large retail chain would have to think about its overall finances, not just those of one shop.

Other areas to consider when deciding what is reasonable

Although the DDA does not specifically mention any further factors, others may be relevant depending on the circumstances.

  • The effects on other employees: if a reasonable adjustment may affect other employees, their needs may need to be considered. For example, if you use software which speaks, it may be necessary for you to wear headphones to avoid disrupting other members of staff.
  • Adjustments made for other disabled people: if there are a number of disabled staff who find some aspect of the working environment difficult, then there is a greater need for an employer to make a significant change.
  • The extent to which you are willing to cooperate: if a service provider offers a fair reasonable adjustment to reduce
  • the adverse effect on you, but you do not like the adjustment, the service provider need do no more (if the adjustment is not fair, then this does not apply).

Most adjustments for disabled people cost nothing. For those that do, help is often available at work through Access to Work and in education via your local education authority or further/higher education funding organisations.

It costs nothing to treat someone fairly and with dignity; it rarely inconveniences others; and changes made for disabled people often make things better for other employees, students or service users.

What is a ‘physical feature’?

Physical features are defined as any of the following:

  • design or building features;
  • features on the way into or out of a building;
  • any fixtures, fittings, furnishings, furniture, equipment or materials in or on the premises; or
  • any other element of the land that the premises occupy.

They can be permanent or temporary. Examples include steps, stairways, kerbs, exterior surfaces and paving, seating in outdoor areas, parking areas, stiles and paths in country parks, building entrances and exits (including emergency escape routes), internal and external doors, gates, toilet and washing facilities, lighting and ventilation, lifts and escalators, floor coverings, signs, furniture, and movable items. This is not an exhaustive list.

Employers, education providers and service providers must consider making a reasonable adjustment to their premises if any of these parts of it are causing a substantial disadvantage to a disabled person.

Planning permission, or permission from the landlord, may be needed before some changes can be made.

 

Last Updated: 30 Jun 2009