Work to rule: Disabilities and reasonable adjustments

What is a reasonable adjustment, and when do we have to make one?

An employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent any provision, criterion or practice applied by it, or on its behalf, or any physical feature of its premises, from placing a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to people who are not disabled. Employers must take such reasonable steps in all circumstances to prevent that disadvantage.

A provision, criterion or practice will include arrangements for determining to whom employment should be offered. It will also include terms, conditions or arrangements on which employment, promotion, a transfer, training or any other benefit is offered or afforded. The employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments will apply to selection and interview procedures and the premises used for such procedures as well as to offers of employment, contractual arrangements and working conditions.

The following must all be considered for possible adjustment: any feature arising from the design or construction of a building on the premises occupied by the care provider; any feature on the premises of any approach to, exit from or access to such a building; any fixtures, fittings, furnishings, furniture, equipment or materials in and on the premises; and any other physical element or quality of any land comprised in the premises occupied by the care provider. Only substantial disadvantages will give rise to the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 gives a number of (non-exhaustive) examples of adjustments that employers may have to make, if it is reasonable for them to do so. These include making adjustments to premises; allocating some of the disabled person's duties to another person; altering the person's hours or work or training; acquiring or modifying equipment; and providing supervision or other support.

For example, a man with dyslexia would be at a disadvantage when applying for a job that involves writing. He may usually write very well but find it difficult to do so under stress, so giving him longer to do any written tests that are part of the application process should be a reasonable adjustment.

Whether it is reasonable for an employer to make any particular adjustment will depend on a number of things, including cost and effectiveness. If an adjustment costs little and is not disruptive, then it will be reasonable to make it, unless another factor, such as practicability or effectiveness, makes it unreasonable.

- Emma Burrows is a partner and head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins solicitors.

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