You may have seen our recent video with Jay Bhayani, talking about how discrimination applies to mental health in the workplace. One of the things Jay touched on in her video, was making reasonable adjustments at work.
I decided to talk about this in a little more detail, with employment law specialist Steven Azizi.
It starts by identifying what counts as a disability
The requirement for you, as an employer, to be making reasonable adjustments at work for disabled employees, is set out in The Equality Act. It says that you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with disabilities, to help them carry out their jobs.
“A person is considered disabled if they have ‘a physical or mental impairment’ which has ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect’ on their ‘ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’” explains employment lawyer Azizi. “This means that a mental illness, such as severe depression and anxiety, could indeed be a covered disability under the Equality Act.”
This means that a disability does not need to be visible, in order for it to be your responsibility to make reasonable adjustments. Therefore, Azizi advises pro-actively engaging in discussion, using the following six tips, in order to explore whether or not reasonable adjustments might be necessary within your place of work.
Taking a pro-active approach to making reasonable adjustments at work
Making reasonable adjustments at work is not a passive activity, according to Azizi. You should be actively seeking signs that employees might need a little extra help.
“Some employers seem to think that they only need to make reasonable adjustments once an employee approaches them to say they have a disability” he explains. “But actually, a lot of the responsibility falls on you.”
He says that there are six steps you should follow, as a matter of best practice.
Six steps when making reasonable adjustments at work
- Do not wait for them to approach you. This is especially true for employees who have a mental health disorder, says Azizi. If you perceive that an employee has a mental health disability, or if you have direct knowledge of this, then you should initiate a respectful conversation, without being prompted by the employee who is affected.
- Ask for medical documentation. This is not because you’re trying to prove or disprove an employee’s disability. Rather, it helps you to understand the nature and the extent of their disability, so that you know which adjustments might be best to make.
- Do not get hostile. Azizi notes that it is easy to feel defensive when faced with the need to make adjustments to your normal way of working. But you should treat each employee with respect, and remember that the reasonable adjustments will actually help them to perform their job better.
- Keep communications confidential. Unless specifically discussed and agreed otherwise, Azizi warns that conversations about an employee’s disability should be considered strictly confidential. Avoid disclosing details without the employee’s permission.
- Make it a two-way discussion. Don’t just dictate what you feel a reasonable adjustment might be. Let the employee make suggestions about what they feel would be a reasonable adjustment, too – after all, they are the one suffering the disability. Azizi says that you are not obliged to meet their exact requests – however, you should not ignore them, either. Consider each request carefully.
- Document your engagements. Beyond making sure you are pro-actively discussing these topics, and making it easy for employees to engage, Azizi says you should document the discussions that you have. This provides an audit trail, should anybody wish to question your approach, further on down the line.
Examples of reasonable adjustments at work
“It’s difficult to provide a good, general example of what a reasonable adjustment is” Azizi says, “because you should generally be tailoring these adjustments to suit the individual. This is more than just a tick-box exercise.”
However, there are a few common examples of reasonable adjustments at work, which employers have used over the years to support employees with disabilities:
- Providing an assistant
- Altering the work environment for accessibility
- Altering the work schedule
- Reassignment to a vacant position for which the individual is qualified
- Providing additional equipment or devices
- Offering assistive equipment such as readers or interpreters
- An unpaid extension of paid or unpaid leave
- Allowing assistive animals in the workplace
- Changing supervisory methods (e.g. dividing complex tasks into smaller parts)
- Offering additional training
- Providing an adjustment or modification of examination, training materials or policies
- Modifying an employment policy
- Offering working from home opportunities