The Paralympics are a great reminder of the success that can be achieved by overcoming barriers presented by disability. Employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage suffered by a disabled employee, but there are other incentives for making these adjustments besides merely avoiding liability for discrimination claims – many businesses enjoy a number of benefits from being equal opportunities employers.
Employers who make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and promote equality of opportunity in their workforce in other ways are more likely to attract and retain a wider and more diverse pool of talent and expertise.
Making reasonable adjustments means disabled employees feel valued and supported and this often improves morale and employee loyalty. Significantly, making reasonable adjustments will often mean that the employee is better able to carry out their work; leading to improved productivity and performance. Such improvements in performance and morale will also likely lead to a reduction in absenteeism.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where a ‘provision, practice or criterion’ of the employer puts a disabled employee or job applicant at a substantial disadvantage compared to others. A failure to do so will amount to disability discrimination.
Adjustments can be wide ranging, may be major or minor and what is ‘reasonable’ will depend on a number of factors and will vary from organisation to organisation.
The types of reasonable adjustments include, but are by no means limited to, the following:
• Changing the work location of the employee: a more accessible floor, a different site or allowing the employee to work from home.
• Making changes to the workplace such as installing ramps, lifts or stair lifts.
• Changes to equipment: such as chairs, screen raisers or magnifying screens.
• Changing the way information is communicated: in writing rather than orally where possible, or vice versa, and using different font sizes, colours and language.
• Offering employees access to services such as counselling.
• For mental health disabilities, such as depression, a ‘buddy’ system may be implemented whereby the employee is assigned a mentor.
• For a dyslexic employee, an employer may install text-to-speech software, specialist spell-check and timekeeping packages and assist with checking written work.
However, what is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment for an employer to make will vary according to factors such as: the extent to which the adjustment is practical and effective in removing the disadvantage, the financial costs involved, the alternative options and the size, nature and resources of the business. It is worth reiterating however, that employers should also keep in mind the benefits of making reasonable adjustments and of being an equal opportunities employer.