Disability discrimination: 10 examples of reasonable adjustments

09 September 2014

We are grateful to Personnel Today for a summary of ten examples of straightforward reasonable adjustments which could have been made by employers which have arisen in case law.

Personnel Today point out that disability discrimination laws place an active duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled employees. This duty arises at any time before, during or after the employment relationship when the employer puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with individuals who are not disabled. The following ten examples show a variety of circumstances in which this duty can arise.

1. Reallocation of a duty a disabled employee cannot do

An NHS trust discriminated against a deaf applicant for a position when it failed to consider reallocating telephone work, according to the employment tribunal in Keane v United Lincolnshire Hospital NHS Trust.

2. Providing a nearby parking space for a disabled worker

In Environment Agency v Donnelly, the EAT held that an employer’s refusal to allocate a parking space near to the workplace of a disabled employee was a breach of its duty to make reasonable adjustments. The employer’s suggestion that the employee should arrive earlier at work to ensure a convenient parking space was wrongly placing the responsibility for making the necessary adjustment on the disabled person.

3. Providing a piece of equipment

West v Lewis t/a Squires Model & Craft Tools is a good example of an employer committing disability discrimination by failing to make a simple and inexpensive adjustment for a disabled employee. A shop worker who had undergone a hip operation had requested numerous times that the company provide her with a stool behind the shop counter, so that she could sit from time to time to ease her pain.

4. Swapping two pieces of equipment

In George v H and M Bottomley Ltd, the employment tribunal found that the employer failed to make the reasonable adjustment of providing a van with power-assisted steering that it had available so a sales representative with rheumatoid arthritis could continue to drive.

5. Redeploying a disabled person to a non-public facing role

In Brooks v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the employment tribunal concluded that an employee with depression who could not cope with significant direct dealings with the public should have been offered a job in a non-public facing role that was available.

6. Allowing for regular breaks to cope with a disability

In Woodhead v Halifax plc, a diabetic employee who was not provided with regular breaks as necessitated by her condition was found to have been unlawfully discriminated against because of her disability.

7. Providing a disabled employee with a mentor

In Bowerman v B&Q plc and others, an employee with Asperger’s syndrome made repeated requests to be provided with a mentor under the employer’s mentoring scheme. This would have assisted the employee in understanding how his behaviour might affect others and would have provided a channel through which other employees could raise concerns they had regarding his behaviour towards them.

8. Amending the employer’s policy on companions at certain meetings

For a disabled employee, the duty to make reasonable adjustments may extend to permitting additional or alternative representation at performance review meetings or disciplinary hearings by someone outside the prescribed categories, for example a support worker or family member experienced in managing the worker’s disability. The Court of Appeal considered this issue in Cave v Goodwin.

9. Swapping roles with another employee

In Jelic v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, the EAT upheld an employment tribunal decision that swapping a disabled police officer’s role with that of another officer would have constituted a reasonable adjustment in the circumstances.

10. Retaining an employee temporarily in an alternative post

In Horler v Chief Constable of South Wales Police, the employment tribunal concluded that the most obvious reasonable adjustment would have been retaining an injured police officer in a camera room operator role to which he had been moved, at least until that post was no longer in existence. At that point, the police force would have been in a position to review the officer’s job. As the police force had not considered taking these steps, it had failed to make reasonable adjustments.