Five important principles about reasonable adjustments for disabilities

Oct 19, 2020 | Business Principles

An employer is required to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people who are placed at a substantial disadvantage in the workplace. This might be about accessibility to premises or adjustments to a role, equipment or other working arrangements. There are a number of important principles to remember in relation to the concept of reasonable adjustments as follows:

The duty to make reasonable adjustments is unique to disability discrimination

You do not need to make reasonable adjustments for people with other protected characteristics, although you should of course be careful not to discriminate either directly or indirectly, and adjusting a practice or requirement in your workplace may be necessary to avoid this risk.

You have to be aware of the disability in order to become obliged to make adjustments

However being aware doesn’t just mean the employee or a doctor has told you specifically. If a tribunal thinks you could reasonably be expected to be aware, that will be enough. That means if you think there is a possibility that a disability is involved, you should investigate and find out for sure rather than waiting to be told.

The duty to make reasonable adjustment comprises three requirements

  • Where a provision, criterion or practice puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage, the employer is required to take reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage. See our article on indirect discrimination for more on this.
  • Where a physical feature of the employer’s premises puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage, the employer is required to take reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage.
  • Third, where a disabled person would, but for the provision of an auxiliary aid (or an auxiliary service), be put at a substantial disadvantage, the employer is required to take reasonable steps to provide the auxiliary aid.

There is a list of possible adjustments

The list is as follows;

  • making adjustments to premises;
  • allocating some of the disabled person’s duties to another person;
  • transferring him or her to fill an existing vacancy;
  • altering his or her hours of working or training;
  • assigning him or her to a different place of work or training;
  • allowing him or her to be absent during working or training hours for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment;
  • giving or arranging for training or mentoring (whether for the disabled person or any other person);
  • acquiring or modifying equipment;
  • providing information in accessible formats;
  • modifying procedures for testing or assessment;
  • providing a reader or interpreter;
  • providing supervision or other support;
  • allowing the disabled employee to take a period of disability leave;
  • employing a support worker to assist the disabled employee;
  • modifying disciplinary or grievance procedures;
  • adjusting redundancy selection criteria; and
  • modifying performance-related pay arrangements.

This list provides useful ideas but is not exclusive. If you are in doubt about what adjustments could be made, seek input from the employee themselves, from a medical professional or from the various disability-related charities or government bodies.

What is considered “reasonable” is not universally consistent

Whether expecting an employer to take a certain step would be reasonable is a question considered objectively and taking into account a number of factors as follows:

  • whether or not taking a particular step would be effective in preventing the disadvantage;
  • the practicability of the step;
  • the financial and other costs of making the adjustment and the extent of any disruption caused;
  • the extent of the employer’s financial and other resources;
  • the availability to the employer of financial or other assistance to help it make an adjustment; and
  • the type and size of the employer.

This means that if you are a small organisation, you do not have the same expectations placed upon you in terms of reasonable adjustments as a larger organisation would. You do need to consider adjustments carefully and look into whether they are possible, but where finances or other resources, opportunities for redeployment or for moving duties to other staff are very limited, you are not expected to create these things out of nowhere.


If you need guidance on reasonable adjustments in your workplace, do get in touch.