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What are reasonable adjustments?

In occupational health, you may often hear the term “reasonable adjustments” used when referring to the steps needed to help facilitate an employee’s successful return to work after time off for injury or illness, following the outcome of a new starter assessment, or to keep an employee healthy while in their role.

But what exactly does a “reasonable adjustment” mean and how does it apply within the UK’s legal and practical frameworks?

Defining reasonable adjustments 

Reasonable adjustments refer to changes or modifications that an employer makes to remove or reduce disadvantages experienced by employees or job applicants. These adjustments ensure that individuals with unique health, wellbeing, or disability needs have equal opportunities in the workplace, aligning with the principles of fairness and inclusivity. 

For individuals with a disability, the concept of reasonable adjustments is legally grounded in the Equality Act 2010, which mandates that employers must take proactive steps to accommodate the needs of disabled individuals, provided these adjustments are reasonable. 

Examples of a reasonable adjustment 

Reasonable adjustments can take various forms, depending on the specific needs of the employee. Here are some common examples: 

  • Physical modifications: This might include installing ramps, modifying restrooms, changes to lighting or temperature, or adjusting the layout of the workspace to improve accessibility. 
  • Flexible working arrangements: Allowing altered work hours, part-time roles, the ability to work from home, or a phased return to work after an absence.  
  • Specialised equipment: Providing ergonomic furniture, screen readers, specialist software, or other assistive devices to help employees perform their jobs effectively. 
  • Adjustments to duties: Modifying an employee’s job description, offering another suitable role, or redistributing certain tasks among other team members to better accommodate their capabilities. 
  • Training and support: Offering training to help the employee utilise new equipment or software, and providing ongoing support to ensure they can work effectively. 

What does ‘reasonable’ mean?  

There is a misconception that reasonable adjustments are expensive and hard to implement. This is not always the case, and many adjustments can be quite simple, affordable, and effective to execute.  

However, depending on the size and type of organisation, what is considered reasonable for one employer may not be for another. There are several factors that influence the assessment of what is considered reasonable: 

  • Effectiveness: The adjustment must be effective in reducing or eliminating the disadvantage faced by the individual.  
  • Practicality: The feasibility of implementing the adjustment within the organisation’s context.  
  • Cost: While employers are expected to bear some costs, adjustments should not impose an undue financial burden. Government grants, such as Access to Work, can help mitigate these expenses. 
  • Impact on others: The adjustment should not negatively impact the overall operation of the business or the rights and responsibilities of other employees. For example, a manufacturing company may not be able to introduce a new piece of machinery for an employee if their workspace does not allow it, or if it negatively alters the rest of the manufacturing process.  

It’s also important to highlight that some reasonable adjustments, whilst implemented for the needs of a specific individual, can often have a positive impact on the greater good. For example, utilising more visual aids in meetings to accommodate the needs of a neurodiverse individual may also benefit the efficiency, productivity, and creativity of other colleagues as well.  

When investigating reasonable adjustments, it’s important to consider systemic changes and the inclusive impact this could have on all employees and the business.  

Legal obligations for employers 

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers in the UK are legally required to make reasonable adjustments when they become aware—or should reasonably be aware—that an employee or job applicant has a disability. This duty is anticipatory, meaning employers should foresee the potential needs of disabled employees and act accordingly, rather than waiting for specific requests. 

Failure to make reasonable adjustments can lead to claims of disability discrimination, with potential legal and financial repercussions for the employer. Therefore, it’s crucial for businesses to understand their obligations and actively work towards creating an inclusive work environment. 

The role of Occupational Health 

Occupational health services play a vital role in the process of identifying and recommending the implementation of reasonable adjustments. Occupational health provides expert assessments of an employee’s health condition in relation to their work and suggests appropriate adjustments employers could consider, enabling them to work effectively. 

Occupational health professionals collaborate with employees, employers, and healthcare providers to create a tailored plan that addresses the unique needs of the individual while considering the operational requirements of the business. 

Conclusion  

Understanding and implementing reasonable adjustments is crucial for fostering an inclusive workplace that supports the wellbeing and productivity of all employees. In particular, the legal framework provided by the Equality Act 2010 ensures that disabled individuals are protected and given equal opportunities to thrive in their careers. 

Employers must stay informed about their obligations and actively engage with occupational health services to ensure they provide the necessary support. Reasonable adjustments are a key component of achieving this goal. 

By doing so, employers not only comply with legal requirements but also cultivate a diverse and dynamic workplace where everyone can contribute their best.  

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