Reasonable adjustments are often the cause of confusion for employees and employers alike, with employees reluctant to raise the issue, and employers unsure of how to proceed.
Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is classed as disabled if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that has a “substantial” and “long-term” negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. It should be noted, however, that the Equality Act 2010 does not apply in Northern Ireland.
“Substantial” is classified as more than minor or trivial. An example is something that takes longer for a disabled person to complete as opposed to an able-bodied person, e.g. travelling to and from work or within the work environment, or even getting dressed to get to work.
“Long Term” means a condition lasting 12 months or more, eg a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection
Recurring or fluctuating conditions and progressive conditions should also be born in mind, and it is important that their classification is clearly understood by employers and co-workers. This can be range from arthritis through to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease, all of which can flare up and go into remission often without warning but which quality as impairments for the purposes of the Act.
A progressive condition is something that worsens over time, and people suffering from progressive conditions can be classed as disabled.
It is, however, important to note that an employee or prospective employee automatically meets the disability definition under the Act from the day they are diagnosed with HIV, cancer or multiple sclerosis.
All employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure workers with disabilities, or those with physical or mental health conditions, are not disadvantaged when carrying out their job. This applies to all workers, including trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners.
Reasonable adjustments include:
- Changing their recruitment process so that a candidate can be considered for a job
- Looking at their work processes differently, such as allowing someone with social anxiety disorder to have their own dedicated desk instead of hot-desking with others
- Making physical changes in the workplace such as installing ramps or grab hands for those with mobility issues, or installing an audio-visual fire alarm for a deaf person
- Allowing wheelchair users to use the ground floor to work from
- Provide a special keyboard
- Moving an employee desk or work station closer to the toilets
- Implementing a phased return to work which may include flexible hours or part-time working. A candidate or existing employee can request part-time or flexible hours of their condition or impairment means they are unable to work full time. If this is granted verbally, then it must be followed up in writing. It is important to differentiate between part-time and flexible working:
Part-time working usually involves less than the standard 35 hours per week, with many employees working between 14 and 28 hours.
Flexible working is defined as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home” which means arranging work to suit the employee’s needs (in conjunction with the employer and co-workers) and does not always mean working part time. Many employers already have a flexible working policy, often incorporating it into their employee handbook or on their company’s intranet, but often employers do not class flexible working as a “reasonable adjustment. An employee doesn’t have to talk about their disability when asking for flexible or part-time working, but openness on both sides is vital for clarity and continued monitoring, especially if a probation period is offered.
- Offering specialised training opportunities and refreshment facilities
Taking into account the above, reasonable adjustments should be seen as an ongoing process and should be viewed accordingly. Many HR Departments and employees understand that such adjustments can be a boon for both sides, but often miss consulting with the numerous agencies or support groups in the wider community. Inclusive conversation and understanding on both sides can reap dividends.