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Can Disabled Workers Request Adaptations to the Workplace?

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 10 Jul 2013 | comments*Discuss
Adaptations Workplace Disabled Equality

Employers must meet the terms of the Equality Act 2010, which ensures there is no indirect or direct discrimination against disabled people in the workplace. This means that employers must make reasonable adaptations to a workplace so that disabled workers have the same access and opportunities as able-bodied staff.

Need for Adaptations

Employers identify the need for adaptations by conducting personal assessments of employees. In other words, employers should follow a process that meets legal requirements. Theory, however, does not always translate well into action. Disabled workers may feel they are unable to do their jobs properly because of a lack of help. If so, there is no reason why such workers cannot ask employers for adaptations to the workplace.

Reasonable Adjustments

The Equality Act 2010 covers a range of issues related to Discrimination and disability. The Act is clear that employers must make reasonable adjustments to the workplace so that disabled people are not at a disadvantage. These adjustments apply as much to refreshment and recreation facilities as to a workstation.

The key phrase here is “reasonable adjustments”. Any worker who applies for adaptations to the workplace must bear this in mind. He or she must accept that an employer will need to consider the reasonable nature of any adaptation request.

All Physical Aspects

Reasonable adjustments apply to all the physical aspects of a workplace. A worker with severe arthritis in his or her hands, for example, may be unable to use standard taps in the kitchen area or toilets. The employer should therefore install lever taps as recommended by disability organisations.

In another part of the workplace, there may be a flight of steps. A disabled person in a wheelchair may be unable to mount these steps. In this instance, the employer should arrange a ramp for wheelchair access.

What matters is that adaptations must help a disabled worker do his or her job to the same standard as an able-bodied person. Any adaptation beyond this may be unreasonable. An employer may also decide, after taking professional advice, that a certain type of adaptation is unsuitable for a workplace. This sometimes happens in older office accommodation.

Suffering victimisation

Asking an employer to make adaptations is not always straightforward, though. An employer may not wish to spend money on adaptations when times are hard.

Anyone who encounters problems should turn to the law. The Equality Act 2010 clearly states an employer’s obligations. Even so, quoting the law may cause friction. This may lead to an employer victimising an employee who has asked for adaptations.

Victimisation of this sort is illegal. If matters reach a stage where an employer is acting unpleasantly, the worker should seek advice. The human resources department of the organisation may help. If there is no such department, the Citizens Advice Bureau can give assistance.

Refusal of Adaptations

Disabled employees need adaptations to the workplace. What’s more, an employer is legally bound to give adaptations serious consideration. The only time when an employer can legitimately refuse an adaptation is when there is a genuine, reasonable and balanced reason for doing so.

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