I regularly come across the attitude that it is for the employee to ask their employer for the reasonable adjustments that they need.

Firstly, this is not correct – the Equality Act 2010 places an obligation on the employer to make reasonable adjustments, irrespective of whether the employee concerned has asked or not, as soon as they are aware of the disability.

Apart from the legal position just described, it doesn’t make sense to be waiting for people to ask. People typically are not very good at asking for what they need and when being forced to ask for help, feel vulnerable or judged. What is more common is that it is just human nature to avoid asking for what you need and wait until things get really bad and relationships are probably strained. We are all familiar with accusations being hurled back to organisations in grievances. So by the time somebody gets to vent their spleen in a grievance, everything has built up to a fever pitch.

Instead of reasonable adjustments being seen as something as problematic and burdensome to an employer, we need to shift our mind-set so that we are thinking that we are just doing something ordinary. Most of us have the tools in our day to day lives to help us – I know on my desk right now, I have a lengthy to do list, you might have set your phone to remind you of something or you might have worked out on paper the things you want to make sure you get across in a meeting today. These are all examples of adjustments that are being made to help us do our jobs. If we make adjustments with a disability, we are just doing the same, it’s just that the tools a person might be using might differ from those that we need to use. We shouldn’t be thinking about it as dealing with some “deficiency”.

When we think about reasonable adjustments, it’s just giving people the tools they need to do their job effectively and we need to stop treating disabled people as “less than” or “different” and just embrace that all of our employees are individuals and require different tools to do their jobs. Some managers get this and will be having open conversations with all their team to look at how they can support their staff member and supply those tools.

In particular, if the person hasn’t done the job before, because they are a new starter, it may be very difficult for them to know from the job description actually what they need. Equally, a new arrival is not going to know what things may be available or a person may have only recently received a diagnosis and be working out themselves what they need. Disabled people in particular may not be confident or articulate at addressing their needs and lots of people who would be classed as disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act will not be aware of this ‘status’ and therefore not aware of the possibility of reasonable adjustments.

Access to Work is a brilliant service run by the Government that includes coming into the workplace to assess what might be needed. It costs nothing. What’s not to like?

Adjustments are often quick, easy and cheap ways to help someone do their job. We’d buy a salesperson a new car to do their job so why not buy another employee different support they need to do theirs?

Your homework: be positive about making adjustments.

Refreshing Law Ltd
12 September 2022