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Employer’s duty to make reasonable workplace adjustments

What are reasonable adjustments?

Reasonable adjustments are changes that an employer may be obliged to provide to a disabled worker if the worker is placed at a substantial disadvantage when compared to a non-disabled worker and it is reasonable for the employer to make the change. The duty to make reasonable adjustment is contained in Section 20 of the Equality Act 2010.

Alongside disabled workers and pregnant women, any workers with a physical or mental health conditions may require some adjustments for them not to be disadvantaged in comparison to their work colleagues. For example, reasonable adjustments may be required for a worker who suffers from long Covid-19 symptoms.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments is not confined to disabled workers but also extends to disabled job applicants. In this blog, we will exclusively deal with reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.

What is a Disability?

Disability is defined in section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the worker’s ability to carry out their normal day-to-day activities. Cancer is by example an impairment that is automatically treated as a disability.

A long-term effect is defined in Schedule 1, Part 1, clause 2 of the Equality Act 2010 as an impairment which has lasted for 12 months or is likely to last for 12 months or is likely to last for the rest of the worker’s lifetime.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments will arise if one of the three following circumstances occur (section 20 (3)-(5) Equality Act 2010):

  • The substantial disadvantage stems from a provision, criterion or practice.

  • The substantial disadvantage stems from a physical feature.

  • The substantial disadvantage stems from the need of auxiliary.

As an example of adjustment relating to a physical feature, a disabled worker in a wheelchair needs to have a desk that accommodates its needs so that she/he does not have to bend or stretch for easy access to a keyboard.

1. Why are reasonable adjustments needed?

Reasonable adjustments aim at diminishing or removing any disadvantage that disabled workers may suffer in the workplace. It also promotes equality of opportunity among workers.

The help given to disabled workers ensures they are empowered to perform their job satisfactorily. It would be unfair for a disabled worker to lose their job or be less productive than their colleagues solely because of a failure by the employer to make reasonable adjustments to provide for their needs.

Employers may see the duty of reasonable adjustment as a legal and moral duty to ensure the well-being of their workers whilst helping the company reaching its full potential through an efficient workforce.

2. What are the consequences if no reasonable adjustments are made?

The employer is deemed to have discriminated against the disabled worker if he has failed to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments (section 21(1) and (2) of the Equality Act 2010).

The worker can bring a claim against his/her employer in the Employment Tribunal for breach of the duty of reasonable adjustments. The worker must show that (1) the worker is disabled, (2) the employer was aware of the disability and should have taken positive steps to remove the barriers in the workplace and (3) no steps were taken by the employer to remedy the situation.

The employer may be ordered to pay compensation to the disabled worker as well as be compelled to make the reasonable adjustments.

To avoid unlawfully discriminating against a disabled worker, it is important to understand when reasonable adjustment should be made.

3. When are adjustments not required?

Adjustments need not be made if the employer could not reasonably be expected to be aware of the disability or if the adjustment proposed is unreasonable.

For example, an employer may not know that one of its workers is a person deemed legally blind as the worker may still be performing his/her duties but take more time to do it.

Reasonableness is a subjective criterion and depends on many factors. For example, it depends on the size and nature of the employer’s organisation, the nature of the disability, the practicability of the change required, the resources that the company holds, the cost of the changes and the number of adjustments already made.

It is essential to ensure that the adjustment that you wish to make or that your employer wishes to make for you will be classified as reasonable under the regulations.

An example of unreasonable adjustment would be to require a small business to pay for transport fees for a disabled worker who was previously able to take public transport.

Disabled workers can receive advice and employers can be granted some extra funding from Access to Work, a government scheme from the Department of Work and Pensions. This may help a business that is unable to pay for an adjustment for an employee that it is unable to fund.

Adjustments which are reasonable will always be at the cost of the employer and not the disabled worker. Employers are prohibited from asking the disabled worker to pay for the adjustment directly or reduce their salary in proportion to the reasonable adjustment made (section 20(7) Equality Act 2010).

It is important to note that not all adjustments have a cost. For example, a change in a policy which is discriminatory would not involve a cost to the business. If a policy says that junior workers have reserved parking spaces which are further to the workplace than senior workers, a junior disabled worker may as a result be disadvantaged. Allowing the junior disabled worker to park closer to the workplace’s entrance will be at no cost for the business.

How Pure Business Law can help?

We are specialist Employment law solicitors based in Bedford and London.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article please contact us on or by telephone on 01234 938089 or 0207 8460123 or 07745 996907.

Pure Business Law is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and is a licensed member of the Law Society of England and Wales.

Please note: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.

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