November 1

Who owns the LinkedIn contacts . . . employer or employee?

The use of online social networking in the workplace has increased dramatically in recent years, in particular through the use of LinkedIn accounts by employees to maintain lists of contacts made during their working lives. The question is raised as to whether the employer or the employee owns the LinkedIn contact lists that have been created in the course of employment. Further, whether an employer can insist on the return of such contact lists when an employee leaves a company.

Due to the terms and conditions of LinkedIn, ownership of a user account itself (provided it is in an employee’s own name) remains at all times with the employee and an employer cannot force the employee to transfer their account or disclose their username and password to them. The key question is therefore whether a LinkedIn contact list created in the course of employment constitutes ‘confidential information’ (ie. equivalent to a trade secret) and therefore owned by the employer.

Observations by judges in relevant cases suggest that basic data which is in the public domain such as the name of a client company, its head office address and contact telephone number do not amount to the equivalent of trade secrets. However, individuals’ direct dial telephone numbers and email addresses are quite likely to be treated as confidential, protected by the law of confidentiality and may not be disclosed or used by the employee without employer authorisation.

The usual breach of confidentiality occurs towards the end of an employment when an employee prints off or emails to himself a list of the employer’s contacts contained on the employer’s computer systems. The situation with LinkedIn is different because the employee has obtained confidential information in the course of his employment for the purpose of his employment. His employer has permitted him to do this and there is no question that he has obtained the information by any underhand means. If the employer has let the employee have the information can he take it back?

The English courts have already decided that where an employee keeps all his contacts (including his own contacts that pre-existed his employment) in his employer’s Outlook system, backed up on the employer’s server, the Outlook contact list will belong to the employer. However, a LinkedIn account is provided directly to the employee by LinkedIn and is hosted on LinkedIn servers therefore the Outlook case law is not directly applicable. Only one reported English case has touched on the ownership of confidential employer contacts migrated by an employee into LinkedIn.

In this case the Court held that even if the employer had authorised the employee to extract its confidential information and use it on LinkedIn, it had only given such authorisation for the purposes of the employment. By extension the argument follows that, just as with physical address books (or other hard copy lists), the contact details should be handed back to the employer at the end of the employment. In the context of LinkedIn this can only be achieved by the employee deleting the relevant connections from his LinkedIn profile.

Employees believe that the LinkedIn connections form part of their stock of knowledge that they are entitled by law to take with them throughout their career. There is presently no sign that the English courts will agree with this argument though and employers are advised to have up to date social media and confidentiality policies which clearly identify what LinkedIn information belongs to whom. Employees who have managed to build up extensive LinkedIn accounts would be wise to negotiate clear terms relating to their contact network before accepting new offers of employment.

July 22

Zero hours casual contracts are not the only option.

The Government is to review the use of controversial ‘zero-hours’ contracts under which staff are put on standby and not guaranteed a minimum amount of work. The concern is that these contracts are now widely used but relatively little is known about their effect on employers and staff. Whilst it is important that the workforce enjoy flexibility, it is equally important that it is treated fairly.
Staff employed under zero-hours contracts are mainly casual workers rather than employees, and the defining feature generally is the absence of mutuality of obligation. In practice, this means staff can be given extra hours when it’s busy but see their shifts cut to zero when it’s quiet. In most cases staff are expected to be available for work but can legally turn down a shift if they don’t need it.
It also means, given that people employed under zero-hours contracts are usually workers, that these staff enjoy far less rights than if they were employees under a contract of employment; most notably they have no right to a notice period on termination of the contract, nor any protection against unfair dismissal, nor do they enjoy any of the family friendly rights.
While zero-hours contracts are, therefore, at least currently, a legitimate means of providing flexibility, it is important for employers to note that they are not the only option.
Permanent employment contracts can also provide all the flexibility of a zero-hours contract and still give certainty concerning employment status for both parties and offer greater employment rights for the member of staff. The way that this flexibility can be achieved is by including appropriate provisions which could include:
a ‘casual employee clause’ being incorporated within the employment contract
job descriptions being non-contractual to allow for changes
flexibility, mobility and variation clauses being included in the contract itself
A more flexible permanent contract containing these types of provisions means that the member of staff will be an employee, rather than a worker. Thus, as employees, they do then have the same rights and entitlements as permanent members of staff – the only difference is that there are no guarantees on the minimum number of hours’ work that they will be offered.

In today’s economic climate, it isn’t viable for employers to employ all staff on permanent contracts with set hours, and that’s why ‘zero-hours’ contracts have become more popular. As long as the employer has well-managed systems in place to support this type of contract, there is no reason why they can’t work for everyone. Employers also need to be more proactive about communicating the terms and conditions of such contracts at the outset to ensure employees understand their rights and what is expected of them.

June 12

The complexities of annual leave and sickness absence.

As we approach the time of year when most employees may be hoping to take annual leave, it is worth considering the increasingly complex interaction between annual leave entitlement and long term sickness absence. Whilst straightforward, definitive answers would be much appreciated by employers and workers alike, the UK and EU case law in this area is becoming diverse and, regrettably, contradictory.
The European case of Stringer held that if a worker is absent due to ill health he or she will still accrue annual leave. That is a very clear message to employers. However, it is not without complication because it is unclear how much annual leave will accrue. Is it the full 5.6 weeks of paid leave a year (which UK workers enjoy and which equates to 28 days for a full time employee working 5 days a week) or, as per EU legislation, only a 4 week entitlement to paid leave?
Perhaps happily for employers, the courts confirmed that workers on long term sick leave are only entitled to carry over up to 4 weeks’ accrued but untaken holiday entitlement.
The law has further clarified that absent workers are entitled to this accrued but untaken leave regardless of whether or not the worker has asked to take holiday during that period of sick leave. Prior to this, it had been thought that in order to benefit the worker had to have formally requested the holiday – this is now not the case.
A further issue that has been before the courts is the question of when the accrued holiday can be taken by the worker. The options currently open to the employer are:
workers on long term sick leave must be entitled to take (and be paid for) any accrued annual leave during their time on sick leave – although the employer cannot insist that they do
workers absent for less than a year should be encouraged to take their outstanding annual leave on their return to work before the holiday year expires
·if there is insufficient time left in the leave year to enable them to take their accrued leave they should be allowed to carry this leave forward into the next leave year
an indefinite period of carry-over would become financially punitive for an employer but as yet there is no UK authority on how long a worker can carry over annual leave accrued during sickness absence – EU courts have ruled that 15 months after the end of the relevant leave year is reasonable and so it has been deemed safe to assume that sick workers should be allowed to carry over unused annual leave entitlement for a period substantially longer than the reference period in which the holiday accrued.
Employers may only pay workers in lieu of their annual leave entitlement on termination of their contract. It is important to remember that if a worker’s employment ends before having had the opportunity to take the annual leave entitlement due to sickness, the worker is entitled to a payment in lieu at the normal rate of pay for all the accrued leave including that which is carried over.

A further point to note is that if a worker has a prearranged period of annual leave and then falls sick, the worker is allowed to take their annual leave at a later date – even if this involves carrying it over to the following leave year.

However, an employer is entitled to ask for medical evidence of unfitness for work (over and above self-certification) if sickness occurs during a holiday. As it is an unusual situation, employers should make clear this applies regardless of how long the sickness lasts.

As is clearly demonstrated, this is a changeable area of employment law and until we secure further clarification from the national courts a degree of uncertainty will remain in certain areas. In the meantime, to minimise the risk of any challenge, employers need to be able to show that they have taken a reasonable and consistent approach to the various issues around sickness and annual leave set out in this note.

June 4

Employers already meeting the majority of flexible working requests ahead of the change to the law next year.

The law as it stands allows for parents of children aged 16 or under, or disabled children under the age of 18, to apply to their employer to work more flexibly if they have worked for 26 weeks continuously at the date that the application is made.

However, the right to request flexible working is to be made more accessible with the advent of Government proposals in 2014, which:

  • extend the right to request flexible working to all employees (not just those with parental responsibility for a child, or caring responsibilities for an adult);
  • replace the current ‘right to request’ procedure with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a ‘reasonable’ period of time;
  • create a statutory code of practice to give guidance on the meaning of ‘reasonable’ to employers; and
  • provide guidance to employers on how to prioritise conflicting requests that are received at the same time.

The 26-week qualifying period for employees to make a request for flexible working will be retained, as will the restriction that means that employees can make only one flexible working request in any 12-month period.

According to research carried out over the last six months by XpertHR, eight out of ten employers already agree to the majority of flexible working requests from employees – both with and without children. This is clearly well before the Government’s extension, thus demonstrating that employers are not only well prepared for the forthcoming legal change but also recognise the benefit in allowing their employees as much flexibility as possible within their working week. The most common flexible working arrangements were found to be part-time hours, flexitime and staggered hours but there are many kinds of flexible working, as follows:

  • part-time working
  • flexi-time – employees may be required to work within essential periods but outside ‘core times’ they often get flexibility in how they work their hours
  • job-sharing
  • working from home
  • term-time working
  • staggered hours – different start and finish times as a way of covering longer opening hours
  • annual hours – the hours an employee works over a whole year are calculated and usually split into ‘set shifts’ and ‘reserve shifts’ which are worked as the demand dictates
  • compressed working hours – employees work their total agreed hours over fewer working days
  • shift-working – widespread in industries which must run on a 24-hour cycle.

Flexible working is not without its issues, however, and the research also explored the difficulties faced by employers when trying to implement an effective flexible working policy – most commonly in the following areas:

  • complexity of scheduling working hours
  • difficulty arranging meetings
  • resentment from employees not working flexibly
  • internal communication difficulties
  • difficulty arranging training

However, these potential problems do not seem to have put employers off. The advantages to implementing such measures will be more motivated employees. Flexible working is not about creating a feel-good factor in the workplace: it’s about boosting the bottom line. Flexible working is part of good management practice. Although the statutory right to request flexible working has helped to popularise the idea, many businesses have adopted flexible working arrangements because it makes good business sense.

February 13

Valentine’s Day . . . dealing with office romances.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and the subject of office romances may be on the mind of many employers. The increasing tendency to spend long hours in the office and to meet partners later in life, means that office romances are on the cards for many. According to various surveys more than 50% of UK employees have at some point dated somebody they work with.

Legal issues to be aware of:
Sex discrimination – if two employees are having a relationship and for that reason the more junior female employee is asked to move teams or, if two employees stop having a relationship and the more senior male employee subjects the more junior female partner to detriment (ie not promoting her), as a result.
Sexual harassment claims – if feelings are not reciprocated by one person, or a relationship breaks up and one party is still attempting to win their former partner back. These claims can relate to the harassment itself, such as any unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or unwelcome sexual advances or sending e-mails or other messages with material of a sexual nature.
Victimisation – if an employee reports an unwanted sexual advance to the employer and is then subjected to a detriment, for example dismissal or not receiving a pay rise or bonus.

Non-legal issues to be aware of:
Conflicts – relationships at work can give rise to conflicts of interest – for example, an employee and their line manager are in a relationship and the conflicts which could arise could include matters such as appraisal scoring, remuneration, work allocation, and promotion.
Confidential information – companies may be concerned that employees in a relationship with one another are sharing information which may not be appropriate, such as management plans for the workforce, or in relation to businesses where employees have access to inside information.

How the employer can protect itself:
Update your discrimination and harassment policies and provide training to employees – make sure that you have properly informed employees about the type of behaviour which is considered inappropriate.
Consider imposing an obligation to report relationships to the employer – so that the employer can consider potential conflicts and potentially transfer one of the parties, if necessary.
Consider banning relationships with co-workers – there is some risk that employees could claim that this sort of ban is contrary to their right to privacy and family life; a less extreme alternative might be to urge employees to exercise discretion in particular where there is a professional conflict of interest.
Consider possible discrimination issues when a relationship is reported – it is important to deal sensitively with relationships – for example although the natural conclusion may seem to be to move the more junior employee, this may constitute sex discrimination and so it is important to be alive to the issues and to seek legal advice if you are in doubt.

January 4

Workplace stress and how to deal with it.

Around one in five people suffer from workplace stress in the UK with half a million reporting illness as a result of job-related pressures. Stress and stress-related illnesses such as depression are among the most challenging issues for employers and a failure to address them properly can leave you exposed to constructive dismissal, negligence and disability discrimination claims. Whilst there is no specific law that deals with workplace stress, employers are obliged by law to be responsible for employee health and safety in the workplace – and managing workplace stress is considered an area of that responsibility.

Many factors can cause stress at work but common triggers are overwork, job insecurity, over-promotion, lack of training, bad working relationships, bullying and harassment, change and personal issues. Understanding what is causing an employee to be stressed is key to managing it.

Talk to your employee

As soon as you have been alerted to a potential issue, you should meet with the employee, discuss the problem and work with him to identify possible solutions. You may also wish to speak to managers and colleagues to understand the situation more fully.

Take action
• Stress caused by genuine overwork: try to identify ways to reduce that workload, by reassigning duties on a temporary or permanent basis or providing additional resources. Do remember to consult with the employee before taking a decision to reassign part of their duties, as doing so unilaterally could give grounds for a constructive dismissal claim.
• Stress caused by difficult working relationships: steps should be taken to try to resolve those relationship issues, through workplace counselling or reallocation of duties.
• Stress due to personal issues: it might be appropriate to consider allowing a short period of unpaid leave or a temporary period of flexible working.

Seek medical opinion

However sceptical the employer is, it is always advisable to consider seeking a medical assessment particularly where the employee has a stress-related illness, such as depression – note that the complaint can be genuine even if the trigger seems objectively pretty trivial. The doctor should assess the employee’s current state of health, the causes of the problem, and any recommended steps to address the situation. Any recommendations that are reasonably practicable should be implemented. If a recommendation is not feasible, make a note of why.
Reasonable adjustments

Where an employee’s stress or depression renders him ‘disabled’ for the purposes of the Equality Act, you will then be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage suffered as a result of the ‘disability’. A failure to do so will constitute disability discrimination. Advice from a doctor as to possible adjustments will be particularly important as a tribunal will scrutinize the extent to which you comply with any recommendations.
Return to work

When the employee returns to work, you should meet with him to clarify your understanding of his current state of health and to talk about any temporary or permanent adjustments in place to facilitate his return. Make notes so there is no confusion later as to what was agreed.

Communication throughout absence

Regular communication must be maintained with an absent employee claiming workplace stress – an employee who is too unwell to work is not necessarily incapable of communicating with their employer. You may have to consider offering to go to their house to discuss the situation instead or ask them to set out their concerns in writing. In all cases, whether a complaint of stress or a full-blown grievance, the employee should be asked what steps he believes should be taken to address the situation, but the employer is not bound by replies.

Dismissing a stressed employee

You should make reasonable efforts to assist an employee who is off with stress, but there may come a point when you have to consider dismissing him due to continued inability to perform the role. Any dismissal must be handled sensitively and carefully to avoid claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination, as follows:

• Obtain an up-to-date medical assessment of the employee’s state of health in order to understand the prognosis and the type of work he might be able to do in the short term;
• Consider any alternative roles before dismissing;
• The employee should be given the opportunity to discuss the proposed dismissal and comment on the employer’s assessment of his state of health and ability to work.

• Whether or not the illness is claimed (or even proven) to be your fault, continued incapability can still be a fair reason for a dismissal.

December 24

“Bah, humbug!” Or, a good time to be had by all . . .

Christmas lights have been switched on, decorations are up, seasonal adverts are on the television and Slade is blasted out all over! Employees will by now know what format their Christmas party is going to take – employers often dread it because it hits their pockets and they are often left to deal with the various issues that arise out of it. By knowing the risks and taking steps to reduce them, employers can ensure it is a harmonious event for all.
Employers are liable for the acts of their employees that are performed in the ‘course of their employment.’ The conduct of staff members at an office party is generally considered to be in the course of their employment, even if the party takes place away from the company’s premises and outside of working hours. Managers are therefore still responsible for the conduct of their staff and should ensure that they are aware of the level of behaviour expected of them and that employment policies that apply during working hours still apply to the party. Employers should ensure that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent misconduct; a sensible starting point is to dismiss, from the outset, the notion that ‘anything goes’ at the Christmas party.
It is worth noting that employers are also responsible for the actions of third parties – namely entertainers or after dinner speakers. Employers need to warn their entertainers as to what is not acceptable in the same way they would their own staff.
Employers should have in place a fair procedure to consider any complaints from employees and employees should be reminded of the procedure in advance of the party. Any failure to deal with a grievance properly and in accordance with the company’s procedures may result in a claim to the employment tribunal, whether on the grounds of discrimination, harassment or a breach of contract.
Many of the issues that arise from Christmas parties stem from employees drinking too much. If employees are expected to come into work the following day, they need to be aware that they can be disciplined for any unauthorised absence. That said, if they are expected to return to work immediately after an event and alcohol has been provided by the employer, it may be unfair to dismiss an employee by reason of misconduct due to the fact that the employee is under the influence. Encouraging or condoning consumption of alcohol during the party will be a mitigating factor if the matter is taken to an employment tribunal. Ensuring that sufficient non-alcoholic beverages are available to those under eighteen, and those not wishing to have alcohol, especially if this is on religious grounds, will help to avoid causing offence and encourage sensible drinking. Focusing the party around a meal or entertainment rather than the provision of drinks will ensure that those who do not drink alcohol feel included.
Keep in mind that an employer’s duty of care extends beyond the Christmas party, and as such employers should not allow anyone who has consumed alcohol to drive when leaving the party – you may want to provide contacts numbers for local taxis or provide buses or coaches to take them home.
It is important to consider whether reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that on every level the party caters for all employees – such as the venue, the food, and the entertainment. As such, employers should be sure to book suitable entertainment which will not include any comments that may be deemed as discriminatory or harassment. Meat-free options should be provided for vegetarians and those with restricted diets due to their religion, and every effort should be made to ensure the venue is accessible for any employee with a disability.
The most important thing is to ensure that all staff enjoy themselves without overstepping these boundaries, and that all employees feel included in the festivities regardless of their religious beliefs. Ensuring that the risks have been considered and prepared for, and that there are suitable policies and procedures in place, will leave employers free to enjoy the party rather than worry about what the following day may bring.

The second most important thing is to ensure that the fine line between sowing a seed of sensibility and being a kill joy is trodden carefully!

November 14

Do you need a social media policy?

The Institute of Employment Studies recently published a paper highlighting the difficulties some employers are having in setting standards of behaviour for the use of social networking tools. The report advises employers to take a common sense stance to regulating behaviour and to draw on norms that might apply in non-virtual settings. In other words, treat ‘electronic behaviour’ as you would treat ‘non-electronic behaviour’.
Why bother setting such standards? Do employers really need to draft yet another policy – a social media policy? The answer is, on the whole, a resounding ‘yes’!
Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, your employees are communicating with the outside world on a regular basis. But do you know what they are saying and is it good for your business?
The use and abuse of social media sites has been a hot news topic this past year and only last week the Court ordered nine ‘Tweeters’ to pay a rape victim compensation after they disclosed her identity on Twitter and Facebook. The Tweeters were unaware that this was a criminal offence but the Court held that ignorance of the law was no defence.
There are many similar well publicised examples, all of which increase the pressure on employers to ensure their employees use social media responsibly. The reason being that if employees implicate, directly or indirectly, their employers in tweets, postings, blogs or emails which are potentially criminal or grossly offensive or discriminatory, the employer could be vicariously liable for those acts. The bottom line is that the employer could face legal action if comments made in the company’s name break the law.
It should also be made clear that conduct by an employee on social media that is perceived to be offensive or inappropriate but which was carried out away from the work place in the individual’s private time could also lead to disciplinary action being taken against them.
The starting point is that employers are not obliged to disregard conduct simply because it occurs outside the workplace. There will clearly be a case for disciplinary action if the conduct is not private in nature and where the link to a particular employer is readily identifiable. Examples of this might include inappropriate comments made on LinkedIn (where the name of the employer is clear) or on Facebook, where an individual’s employer may be listed on his profile.
However, where conduct is ostensibly private and comments on social media cannot be obviously linked to the employer, the key question is whether the conduct, once discovered by the employer, has an impact on the employee’s ability to do his job. Employers will, therefore, need to take into account such factors as the nature of the offence committed, the nature and status of the work done by the employee and, in particular, the extent to which the employee’s role requires the employer to place trust in the employee.
Whilst considering the impact of social media, a further issue is the fact that many companies have problems with employees who are continually ‘distracted’ by social communication during the working day. The jury is out on just how much it costs companies when employees use social media sites but an organisation with 100 staff could lose over 16 working hours every day if each person checked texts and Facebook posts for just 10 minutes.
Employers would be well advised to put in place a social media policy which makes clear to employees the approach that their employers will take to conduct in both the professional and private sphere. A social media policy educates employees and sets down the ground rules. A social media policy can give a firm a benchmark so it can enforce the policy. Employers need to set out what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, so that they have a case if someone breaches the policy. It should state that:
• Employees must behave professionally and should not mix personal and business in ways likely to bring the employer into disrepute.
• Employees should not undermine their effectiveness at work.
• Employees should not imply their employer’s endorsement of their personal views.
• Employees should not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

It is surprising how many organisations still don’t have any sort of IT or social media policy particularly given that analysis shows that the peak time for social media traffic is during working hours. A social media policy is a comprehensive set of rules that will help staff remain focused and so drive up productivity – this can be achieved quickly and easily and at very little cost to the business.

October 10

With the onset of winter comes the rise in absenteeism . . .

Rates in staff absenteeism soar in winter and unexpected absences can affect business productivity and profits. If they become a regular occurrence they may affect morale and motivation.
A real ‘sticking’ point for employers facing absenteeism is making the decision as to whether the absence of their employees is genuine or not. In a CBI Absence Study in 2011, almost a third of employers reported believing that more than 20% of their staff absence was not genuine, with 93% believing that sick notes were issued too readily by GPs. Illnesses such as colds and flu were the most frequently mentioned reason for sick leave; stress the second most common; followed by complaints of back pain and recurring medical conditions.
While it may be difficult to plan for unexpected absences, as an employer there are steps you can take to help you deal with the problem and minimise the potential disruption:
• Ensure staff understand the sickness absence policy and that it is followed consistently throughout the business.
• An effective policy should cover the following: 
– Method of notification if an employee is late, ill or absent for any other reason 
– When they should submit a self-certification form or medical certificate,
– Sick pay arrangements, 
– The occasions when time off may be permitted, 
– The consequences of not complying with the policy.
• Make it company policy to always carry out a ‘return to work’ interview – to welcome back the employee, check they are well enough to be back at work, find out why they were away and update them with any news. It may also deter staff from feigning illness.
• By implementing a common practice for recording sick days, you can glean key data such as the number of working days lost, the frequency of an employee’s sickness and whether absenteeism is more commonplace within a particular department. This may help you detect and tackle any underlying issues such as workplace bullying.
• Unhappy staff are more likely to take time off. Creating a friendly environment, where staff feel valued as part of a team and where flexible, family friendly policies are in place is likely to prove more effective at keeping absenteeism to a minimum.
• Cases of genuine long-term sickness or regular occurrences of short-term sickness, should be handled sensitively. Regular contact with an absent employee will help to prevent them from feeling isolated and will provide you with a clearer idea of their situation. You should establish whether their illness amounts to a disability and if so reasonable adjustments must be made to help the employee return to work and carry out their role more easily.

The CBI Absence Study in 2011 reported that staff are each absent from work for, on average, 6.5 days a year. Unauthorised absence is normally the ‘odd day off’– whether paid or unpaid it is costly to an organisation as it is unpredictable and can result in deadlines being missed, lowered customer satisfaction, lower moral among colleagues and even lost business. Setting out clear policies, monitoring absences and understanding your legal requirements will enable you to keep on top of the issues and hopefully reduce the amount of absenteeism within the workplace.

September 6

The Paralympics have shown just what disabled people are capable of, with support and when they are valued . . .

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.

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