Workplace Adjustments for People with Disabilities: Employer Responsibilities

March 5, 2018
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According to recent government statistics, there are around 13.3 million people living with disabilities in the UK. This accounts for almost 1 in every 5 people. It’s therefore likely that you currently have staff with disabilities or will employ them in the future.

Under the Equality Act 2010, you must make reasonable workplace adjustments to accommodate people with disabilities. It’s crucial that you follow your duties, as staff with disabilities may need support to improve their work conditions, while those looking for employment deserve equal access to job opportunities.

Employee on the phone about a job

This article will explain how to effectively implement adjustments and what types provide effective support. By following the guidance it sets out, you’ll avoid discriminating against people with disabilities and facing legal issues. More importantly, you’ll create a workplace that promotes a culture of understanding and supportiveness, and in which people with disabilities can thrive.

What are Reasonable Adjustments?

‘Reasonable adjustments’ refers to making alterations in the workplace that help people with disabilities to work comfortably and safely. For instance, implementing new equipment or flexible working arrangements. They also refer to creating job applications that candidates with particular requirements can easily access. Accessible applications are important, as they give people with disabilities equal job opportunities.

A disability access ramp over stairs

You may make permanent or temporary adjustments, depending on what you and the person identify as suitable and necessary. For example, if a worker has to use a wheelchair for six months, it’s not entirely necessary to alter the workplace permanently.

However, if you hire a new employee who has a long-term disability, you’ll likely need to implement permanent changes. For example, those that support their ability to get around the building, do their job comfortably, work with others, and remain safe while at work.

Gaining an understanding on potential disabilities in the workplace can help you adjust accordingly. For example, you could learn about the causes, triggers and symptoms of epilepsy here.

How do I implement reasonable adjustments?

To effectively and lawfully implement reasonable adjustments, you should:

Respond to people’s requests.

By law, if an employee has a disability, they are entitled to tell you what adjustments they require, and you must accommodate this request. Failure to make reasonable adjustments can lead to numerous negative consequences for your business. It can significantly affect staff’s productivity and wellbeing, damage your business’s reputation, and amount to discrimination that lands you in legal trouble.

To ensure adjustments are reasonable, you need to take into account what you can do to support the person without impacting other aspects of the workplace. This includes considering resources, practicability, costs, and the impact on other staff.

Whatever your circumstances, however, you have to make some reasonable change. Furthermore, you must ensure that the person helps to decide on the proposed changes. This ensures you both get the full benefit and build a mutual understanding.

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Be proactive in implementing adjustments.

This isn’t to say you should immediately install costly equipment. It also doesn’t mean you should directly ask an employee if they have a disability – this is against the law. It means making a habit of asking people if they require anything to support them, particularly when they start work. This gives them the opportunity and reassurance to disclose their disability and ask for changes.

It also means actively making alterations where you deem them appropriate. This is not only beneficial in terms of the support it provides, but also because it sends a positive message to staff. It says that you’re open to accommodating their needs if they require it. It shows that you’ll do so because you actually care, not just because you’re supposed to.

For instance, you might decide to make your absence policies more flexible. This would benefit anyone who has a disability that they may not want to disclose. They’ll be able to take time off on shorter notice without it leading to negative consequences.

Worker in an office looking at notes

Collaborate with the person who has a disability.

The person living with the disability knows what’s best for them; your assumption will not always be the most effective option. Collaboration is therefore vital. It benefits both you and them by ensuring you don’t provide unhelpful or potentially offensive alterations, or make costly, unnecessary changes.

However, not all people with disabilities will know what workplace adjustments are available to them. That’s why you should have some knowledge of reasonable adjustments. You’ll be able to make suitable suggestions and discuss them together with the person.

Workers having a discussion about workplace adjustment for disabilities

Examples of Reasonable Adjustments

There is a wide range of suitable adjustments you can implement to meet certain people’s needs. For example, new work equipment, altered workplace layout, new job roles, accessible applications, flexible arrangements, and more. The type of adjustment that’s best for your staff depends on their specific disability, individual needs, and the job they will carry out.

Employer discussing workplace adjustment for disabilities with a worker

Good examples of workplace adjustments include:

  • Physical alterations. For example, disability access (such as ramps, lifts, and wider doors) or a quiet space. A quiet area allows people with learning disabilities or mental health issues (such as Asperger’s syndrome or depression) to have a break if they feel overwhelmed by work and social activities. This quiet space could also include comfortable seating to allow people with arthritis to sit and rest.
  • Altering or moving job roles. A new or long-standing disability may affect a person’s ability to carry out certain tasks. For example, someone whose hearing deteriorates over time will struggle to keep talking to customers over the phone. You could allow them to focus on email customer service instead.
  • Flexible hours. Many people need time to attend medical appointments, such as those with diabetes. Similarly, those who have just received a diagnosis or struggled with a particularly hard period may need a phased return to work.
  • Accommodating job applications. Make job applications accessible to those with disabilities by providing different formats, such as audio and Braille, and by making the style and content appropriate. The font size should be at least 12 and you should avoid stating requirements that may discriminate against disabilities. For example, don’t say that they need a driver’s license unless the job actually requires it. Include contact details for someone who the applicant can speak to if they want to discuss support arrangements.
  • Safety measures. For example, install audio-visual fire alarms or use vibrating pagers for staff who are deaf. You could also make sure an employee with epilepsy has someone accompanying them at all times.
  • Staff training. Staff should know what they can do to accommodate the needs of workers with disabilities. For example, if a worker is deaf, colleagues should ensure they communicate important instructions through writing and talk clearly to the person so they can lip read. Furthermore, staff may need to help someone during an evacuation, so should know what to do.
  • New equipment or software. For example, larger monitors will help people with visual impairments, while software that helps with grammatical and numerical tasks can support people with dyslexia.

Whenever you discuss these adjustments with staff, avoid assuming what’s best for them. Make an effort to ask for their personal input, and value their opinion. For example, phrases along the lines of: “Would this help you do this task easier?”, “Would this relieve this discomfort?” or “What would help you do this safely?” invites them to share their personal views and shows you respect them.

Woman working on computer

Always keep in mind that making job opportunities accessible helps you build a team of people with unique skills and perspectives. You help everyone work their best and improve the lives of those who may struggle in other aspects of their day to day life.

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