The Equality Act 2010 requires an employer to make reasonable adjustments to enable a disabled person to work. This replaces the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
These reasonable adjustments may be to the recruitment process or to your workplace once you’ve started. Many reasonable adjustments cost little or nothing. But they can make a big difference to disabled employees.
If there are reasonable adjustments which would allow you to carry on working or help you to overcome barriers, ask for them. If you’re not sure what these might be, Access to Work grants can pay for specialist assessments and recommended adjustments.
You can ask for reasonable adjustments even before you have started a new job.
Who is responsible for reasonable adjustments
Good employers will have effective procedures to meet the needs of disabled employees. But your employer may need help understanding your specific requirements. Asking for reasonable adjustments will enable you to do your job better. It will also help your employer by suggesting solutions to possible barriers and how to fund them.
Examples of reasonable adjustments
Employers and employees need to communicate openly, because the needs of all employees are different. This is true, even if they have a similar impairment to another person.
Adapted equipment, such as chairs, keyboards or voice recognition software
Changes to the work environment, such as lowering desks, using natural daylight bulbs, modifying entrances
Different responsibilities, maybe even a different job
For some jobs, simple changes are easy and can make a big difference. In some types of work, it’s harder to make changes. For example, you can do some jobs from home, and others you cannot. Working out what's possible is what the law calls 'reasonable adjustments'.
There is no set definition of ‘reasonable’. It's unique to each organisation, but your employer will have to think about:
health and safety
length of service and valuable skills
Reasonable adjustments are not favouritism
Providing disabled and non-disabled people with the same working conditions is not enough. Employers have to consider all requests that would give disabled people the tools they need to do their job. Employers must follow the law by providing reasonable adjustments.
If you ask for reasonable adjustments that your employer thinks could be ‘favouritism’, ask them why they feel that way. Help them to understand by explaining why you have different needs.
Talking to your employer
Your employer’s human resources (HR) policies and procedures might describe how they should be helping you. Even if the policies do not mention reasonable adjustments, they are still your legal right.
If you have to take time off, talk with your employer about coming back to work. This is a good time to talk about your impairment and adjustments. You do not need to wait for your employer to talk about this.
Other employers might be embarrassed or not know what to do. They will need you to take the lead. Approach your line manager or a member of the HR team to start the process.
Check your contract. Ask for a copy of the relevant HR policies and procedures, such as a sickness policy or guidance on employing disabled people. If you find something relevant, share this with your manager.
It’s best to start with small conversations. Even if you're stressed, be ready to make your case and listen to any concerns your employer may have. Your employer may be trying their best to help. Be reasonable, but expect your employer to be reasonable too. If they're not, that's the right time to become assertive.
If you do not get a response, make a formal request in writing and consider raising a grievance.
Get support if you need it
Ask your employer if you can bring someone along to meetings. This could be a colleague, union representative, friend or family member. They should be responsible and reliable. They could be useful to help you process information and to take notes. This is especially important if your employer is unsupportive.
If the meeting is a formal grievance hearing, you have a right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative.
Keep copies of everything that you send to your employer and make notes of your conversations. Include:
dates and times
what was said
who said it
You will need these records if you have to attend an employment tribunal.
Occupational health assessments
You may have an occupational health assessment as part of the process of working out what adjustments you need. This is common.
Ask for an assessor with experience of helping disabled people to overcome barriers to stay in work. This is called vocational rehabilitation. Not all occupational health assessors or therapists have experience in this area. You may need to search online or get a personal recommendation.
You must consent to share relevant medical information if your occupational health assessor asks your GP. Do not ignore the request. Share information that will help your employer to understand your needs at work. You do not need to include anything else. For example, if your needs are linked to mobility, you do not need to share anything about your mental health.
Paying for assessments and adjustments: Access to Work grants
Access to Work grants can help pay for adjustments at work and for specialist assessments. These are Government grants but it's your responsibility to apply for them.
Access to Work is reviewed every 3 years. This allows you to apply for upgrades in your support technology.
If an employer knows about Access to Work and wants you to apply, this is a good sign. Some businesses prefer to pay for adjustments themselves. If they have their own disability specialist helping to assess what you need, this can be a good thing.
If your employer does not consider what kind of adjustments you need, or how Access to Work could pay for them, they could be discriminating against you.
Negotiating with your employer can be challenging. Being assertive will help you to get the employer to fulfil their responsibilities. But being aggressive might mean that they will not want to employ you.
You may want to challenge a decision if you think that their decision does not follow their own policies and procedures.
Your employer could be discriminating against you if they refuse a request for a reasonable adjustment. If they do this, you should get help and advice on what to do next.
If you're not sure what your rights are, you can get legal advice from your:
Your employer needs to check that you have what you need to do your job. There should be someone at your organisation responsible for this. Your manager or a member of HR will be able to tell you who this is.
Ask for your needs and adjustments to be part of your regular supervision. If you do not have regular reviews or supervisions, ask for them.
If your adjustments are not working, raise your concerns immediately. This will affect your performance and other people might see this as you being unable to do your job. People in HR sometimes call this a ‘capability issue’. Raise this within the organisation before resorting to unions or getting legal advice.
Remind your employer that they can renew adjustments through Access to Work every 3 years.