What adjustments can you make for a disabled employee?

Employing a worker with a disability will often involve making reasonable adjustments to your workplace, or sometimes the role. This can be a challenge but also a learning experience

First published on Wednesday, Jun 24, 2020

Last updated on Tuesday, Apr 20, 2021

But that really doesn’t mean employing a disabled person is financially prohibitive.

You should always offer as much support as you can to disabled employees. But understanding your obligations — i.e. what counts as reasonable for your organisation, staff, and applicants — can open up possibilities for employing a more diverse workforce.

Here’s what you need to know about making workplace disability adjustments.

Who do you need to make adjustments for?

The UK’s Equality Act 2010 protects people against disability discrimination during recruitment and employment.

A disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect” on a person’s ability to do normal, daily activities.

Adjustments for new recruits

It’s illegal to ask applicants about their health or disabilities during recruitment. You can only ask an applicant about their disabilities after you’ve offered them the job, at which point you can discuss any workplace adjustments they require.

Case law has shown that if the required adjustments are beyond your organisation’s means, you can legally withdraw the job offer. However, you should try to negotiate a workable solution first.

You don’t have to change the specification of a role, i.e. duties and working hours, to accommodate a new applicant with a disability.

Adjustments for employees who become disabled

When an existing employee, contract worker, trainee, or apprentice develops a disability, you must also make adjustments to help them return to work.

These can include offering flexible or part-time hours, in addition to other reasonable adjustments.

Examples of reasonable workplace adjustments

The thought of adjusting your workplace to accommodate disabilities might conjure images of costly specialist equipment. However most reasonable adjustments don’t cost that much, or they can make use of facilities you already own — which is part of what makes them ‘reasonable’!

Examples might include:

  • Working another way, such as allowing a physically disabled person to work on the ground floor
  • Making physical changes to the workplace, such as installing a wheelchair ramp or disabled toilet
  • Providing equipment that overcomes disadvantage, such as a braille keyboard and reader

When is an adjustment not reasonable?

Organisations are not expected to make workplace adjustments that would damage the company finances or make the role less effective. Case law shows you may be able to legally refuse unreasonable workplace adjustments. For example, there’s no requirement to:

  • Change the standards or skills required for the job
  • Make adjustments for the disabled employee’s career
  • Hire or continue employing someone whose disability could endanger them or their colleagues in the workplace

The employee and your organisation could also apply for a government ‘Access to Work’ grant of up to £40,800 to pay for workplace adjustments.

No knowledge, no adjustment

Finally, if an employee doesn’t make you aware of their disability, and it isn’t plain to see, you have no legal obligation to make workplace adjustments.

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