If you are disabled under the Equality Act, your employer might have to make adjustments to help you do your job. The Equality Act 2010 calls these “reasonable adjustments”. They can be changes to policies, working practices or physical layouts, or providing extra equipment or support.
To be entitled to reasonable adjustments, there is no minimum service requirement. The duty arises where an applicant, employee, worker, volunteer or intern suffers from a disability and is placed at a substantial disadvantage at work because of that disability.
The adjustments must be ‘reasonable’. What’s reasonable for your employer to do depends on the situation, for example, the size of the organisation you work for and if it is considered reasonable for them to implement your adjustment.
If your employer doesn’t make adjustments that they have a duty to make, this could amount to discrimination under the Equality Act. You might be able to raise a grievance or submit a claim to the Tribunal on the basis of this breach. If your employer believes that a requested adjustment is unreasonable, they should explain to you why they think the adjustment is not possible and try to find any alternatives. Ensure that you get any decisions or a note of any discussions in writing from your employer.
Are you disabled under the Equality Act 2010?
The Equality Act 2010 sets out when someone is considered to be disabled, and therefore protected from discrimination. The definition is set out in section 6 of the Equality Act 2010. It says you’re disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. A long-term effect means something that has affected you or is likely to affect you for at least 12 months. You have an ‘impairment’ if your physical or mental abilities are impacted in some way compared to most people. An impairment doesn’t have to be a diagnosed medical condition.
You’ll need to show that you’re at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ because of your disability before your employer must make any adjustments. This means being affected in a way that is more than ‘minor or trivial’.
For example, if a daily task takes you an extra few minutes compared to others because of your disability but doesn’t otherwise cause you any detriment, it might be so minor that you won’t need any adjustments. However, if it means you’re missing your targets and could be given a warning, then it would be more than ‘minor or trivial’.
You’ll need to show that someone without a disability would not be affected, or would be affected less than you, by the particular rule, requirement, feature or lack of equipment or support.
Your employer is only under a duty to make reasonable adjustments if they know or could reasonably be expected to know that you’re disabled.
When does your employer have to make reasonable adjustments?
Your employer might have to make adjustments for you if you’re at a substantial disadvantage compared to people who don’t have a disability because of:
- a rule, practise or another working arrangement (the law calls this a ‘provision, criterion or practice’) that applies to all staff in the same way but put you at a disadvantage because of your disability
- a physical feature of your workplace – for example, if you can’t use the steps because of a mobility issue
- not having extra equipment or help – the law calls this an ‘auxiliary aid’
A ‘provision, criterion or practice’ at work could include something in your employment contract or how your employer does things at work. For example, this could be the hours you have to work, your work duties, the targets you have to meet or your employer’s rules about sick leave.
A ‘physical feature’ could include the stairs at work, the lighting in the workplace, the toilets or the desk and chair you have to use.
An ‘auxiliary aid’ could include computer software for a blind person, a support worker for someone with autism, or visual fire alarms so that a deaf person can get out of the building safely in an emergency.
How to request reasonable adjustments
You should see if the company handbook has a policy that will set out the companies process on how to ask for reasonable adjustments. If your employer doesn’t have a policy, you can make a request to your employer in writing. You could try writing an informal letter first. This is most likely to keep a good relationship with your employer. Remember that you want to continue working there, so make sure your letter is polite and helpful – the aim is to work out the best solution together.
Your letter doesn’t have to follow a set format, but it should:
- give your employer enough information about your condition for them to understand that you could be disabled.
- explain to your employer why you need the adjustments you’re asking for. You should tell them why it’s difficult for you to do your job compared to someone without your disability.
- say what’s causing you a problem at work and how that could be addressed – list any solutions you can think of.
You should say if you’re asking for:
- a change to a rule or way of doing things
- a change to a physical feature
- extra equipment or support
You can end your letter by asking your employer to consider the adjustments and let you know in writing if they can’t make them or ask them to have a meeting with you to discuss your request. Ask them to respond within a certain timeframe; 7 to 14 days is usually reasonable depending on what you’re asking for.
If you speak to your employer, keep a note of what you asked for and their response. If they agree to make a change within a certain timeframe, make sure you follow up with them if they don’t do it within that time.
If you’re a member of a trade union, you could ask your union representative to help you make your request.
Check if the adjustment you want is ‘reasonable’
Your employer has to take reasonable steps to avoid you being disadvantaged, or to provide aid if you need one.
There’s no definition of what’s reasonable but it will depend on lots of factors, like how easy it would be to make the adjustment or your employer’s resources; a large company might be expected to do more than a small business, depending on the circumstances.
You should also consider:
- if a particular change would prevent the disadvantage for you – the more likely it is to do that, the more likely it is to be reasonable
- how practical it would be for your employer to make the change
- the financial and other costs of making the change
- how disruptive making the change would be
- what financial or other help your employer has to make a change
There’s no limit on the kind of changes employers have to make, but it could include:
- changing hours of work, permanently or for a short while if you’re going back to work after being off sick
- changing your work duties – like reducing your workload if you have work-related stress
- providing clear, written instructions to a worker with autism who finds it difficult to decide on the order in which to carry out tasks
- giving a worker with back pain more frequent rest breaks than other workers to allow them to stand and move away from their desk
What if your employer doesn’t make any reasonable adjustments?
If you think your employer’s decision is unfair or they don’t make the adjustments they said they would, you may have a tribunal claim for discrimination, specifically, failure to make reasonable adjustments. In terms of time limits, you must approach Acas with your case within 3 months less one day of the alleged act of discrimination. The time limit usually starts when your employer refuses to make reasonable adjustments.
How can Thrive help?
If you think a request for reasonable adjustments has been unfairly refused, or that your employer has failed to fully consider it, you may have a claim.
If you feel you’ve experienced detriment or have been dismissed, you may also have a claim. Please get in touch for a free initial assessment of your case at email@example.com
Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org