The Equality Act 2010
From a regulatory perspective, the Equality Act (2010) outlines an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities in order to ensure that they have the same access to everything that involves gaining or keeping employment as a non-disabled person. A workplace adjustment is a change or adjustment unique to a person’s needs that will enable them to do their job.
A person is eligible for adjustments termed ‘reasonable’ if they are legally defined as disabled. According to the Act a person is defined as disabled if they have a mental or physical impairment that has a substantial long term (i.e. more than 12 months) effect on their normal day to day activities. A person is also protected under the Act if they have been affected in this way in the past but have been well for some time.
It is important to remember that employers have a duty to ensure that workplace adjustments are applied at every stage of employment including recruitment, induction, training and development and return to work. The adjustments that an employer can make will be dependent on the employee or candidate disclosing their health condition in the first place or at least be willing to discuss their needs. What is considered ‘reasonable’ will depend on the circumstances of the case.
What is Reasonable?
Employers are only required to make adjustments that are reasonable. Factors such as the cost and practicability of making an adjustment and the resources available to the employer may be relevant in deciding what is reasonable. Ultimately, it would be for an Employment Tribunal to decide, in the event of a claim of alleged unlawful disability discrimination, what adjustment should be made for a particular disabled employee, and whether an employer were correct to decline to make an adjustment on grounds of practicality or cost.
Potential adjustments should be considered on a case-by-case basis, but factors which may be helpful to consider include:
- the effectiveness of the adjustment in preventing the disadvantage
- the practicability of making the adjustment
- the extent to which making the adjustment would impact on service delivery
- financial and other costs – and any financial assistance available
- the potential impact on colleagues.
Examples of Adjustments
The Equality Act (2010) does not list the sorts of adjustments that employers might have to make, but examples could be:
- providing in interview situations extra equipment at reasonable cost, removing movable barriers like furniture, or holding the interview in a different, wheelchair accessible room;
- allowing a guide or hearing dog into the workplace;
- purchasing specialist equipment, such as an ergonomic chair;
- allowing different start and end times to the working day
- discounting disability-related sickness leave for the purposes of absence management;
- providing additional supervisory guidance / support;
- including a disabled parking space in the car park;
Costs & Benefits
The workplace adjustments needed to support disabled employees may often be quite simple and inexpensive but can produce a range of business benefits, including reduction of sickness absence, greater staff engagement and productivity, as well as reduced staff turnover. Making a few small adjustments to enable a member of staff to continue doing their job is far less expensive than the costs incurred through recruiting and training a new employee. According to The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the average cost of a workplace adjustment is just £752.
Individual Needs Assessments
Putting the individual at the centre of the discussion is vital for agreeing workplace adjustments in order to understand and meet their specific needs. Using the advice and guidance of other professionals such as the individual’s GP or asking for support from an Occupational Health provider, can be invaluable in finding solutions.
Access to Work
Another potential source of advice and possible funding for workplace adjustments is Access to Work, a government-run programme delivered by Jobcentre Plus to help overcome barriers that disabled people come across in getting into or retaining employment. The programme provides advice, a possible assessment of a person’s disability needs in the workplace, recommendations to help employers establish whether they can meet an employee’s needs through reasonable adjustments, and if required, a financial grant towards the cost of any necessary support.
The grant can help pay for items or services employees need, including:
- adaptations to the equipment they use
- special equipment or software
- British Sign Language interpreters and video relay service support, lip speakers or note takers
- adaptations to their vehicle so they can get to work
- taxi fares to work or a support worker if they cannot use public transport
- a support worker or job coach to help them in their workplace
- disability awareness training for their colleagues
Please note that this is general guidance only and cannot by its nature deal with all circumstances. If you are unsure of your obligations in specific circumstances, please contact us for further advice and support.
This guidance has been curated by Nicole Squires, MA, Chartered MCIPD, an Executive Consultant and Head of Employee Wellbeing and Engagement at People Based Solutions.
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