What are reasonable adjustments?
The Equality Act 2010 places employers under a legal obligation to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. These are designed to redress the balance in working conditions and practices that 'create a substantial disadvantage for a disabled person when compared with a non-disabled person'.
Reasonable adjustments can be implemented from the moment a person applies for a job, when they are offered the job, supporting them to stay at work and for staff returning to work following a period of illness. Adjustments can be temporary or permanent and should be reviewed and agreed in consultation with the member of staff as they are most likely to know best what could help them.
In the past, people often thought about disabilities being purely physical. Consequently employers focused on adjustments such as providing wheelchair access to all working areas. It is only recently that the focus has shifted to adjustments for people with mental health problems.
The two questions you may ask are 'what makes an adjustment reasonable?' and 'what kind of adjustments are we talking about?'
In practice, what is reasonable for a large employer may not be reasonable for a very small firm with few staff. Costs are likely to be considered but many adjustments that really make a difference can cost very little or nothing at all. However, in all cases, the costs of making reasonable adjustment must not be passed on to the employee.
A few examples of changes that might help
- Extending flexible working policies to allow commuting outside of rush hours
- Allow staff to work at home on occasion if this is helpful
- Allowing time out for a break during the working day
- Providing a quiet space for staff to work in to allow for more privacy or reflection
- Giving staff time off during the working day to attend appointments
- Review workload during periods of poor mental health
Jane Duke is occupational health advisor at Strathclyde University. See Me asked her how easy it is to implement reasonable adjustments in practice.
Here are a few tips from her:
“Managers need to have the knowledge and understanding of why adjustments are required and it is helpful if there is some type of policy statement - sometimes as part of the sickness absence policy. The most common type of temporary adjustment does not involve huge costs for those suffering a mental health issue.”
“In reality adjustments are most successfully implemented when there is clarity and input from all parties concerned - the employee, manager, HR and/or Occupational Health so expectations are managed.”
“Simple adjustments can be very successful and do not need to be costly and there is usually a degree of compromise required by all parties. It should be clear if adjustments are going to permanent. if not, how long they are to be in place for, at what rate are full duties to be reinstated and what will happen if despite adjustments employees cannot manage their work.”
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