Your questions on reasonably adjustments answered.
Do employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments?
If you have a disability, your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments if you need them to carry out your work, or to be able to accept a job.
This applies whether you work for the NHS or a private provider. It can apply if you are self-employed and are required to do the work personally.
There is no minimum qualifying service.
What is the legal framework?
In England, Wales and Scotland this duty is set out in the Equality Act 2010 (EA 10). In Northern Ireland, it is contained in the amended Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (for students).
Employers should also follow the statutory Codes of Practice that accompany the legislation. While these are not themselves law, tribunals and courts will take them into account when deciding whether an employer has failed in their duty to make adjustments.
In England, Wales and Scotland, the relevant code is the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Equality Act 2010 Employment Statutory Code of Practice. In Northern Ireland, it is the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) Disability Code of Practice: Employment and Occupation.
Does the duty apply to me?
The duty applies to all workers with a disability, including contract workers and agency workers, as well as apprentices, job applicants and students on work placements.
You must have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act (Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland). This means that you have:
“a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”
This includes obvious or visible disabilities as well as invisible disabilities including neurodiverse conditions such as autism, dyslexia, or dyspraxia.
It is important to remember that the definition of a worker with disabilities relates to your ability to carry out activities rather than the diagnosis itself. This means that, with a few exceptions, a diagnosis will not automatically result in a right to reasonable adjustments and you may have to prove that the condition has a substantial adverse effect on your day-to-day activities.
The exceptions are cancer, HIV infection and multiple sclerosis, which are accepted as disabilities from the point of diagnosis. If you are blind or sight impaired, you are also deemed to have a disability.
For more information, see paragraphs A9 and A10 of the Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability which gives further information about what is a disability.
If your health or long term conditions do not qualify for Reasonable Adjustments under the Equality Act, you can still consider making an employee request for flexible working arrangements.
All employees have a statutory right to request flexible working after 6 months in their role. Many employers – including NHS employers from 2021 onwards – give staff a contractual right to request flexible working from day one of their employment.
How does the duty to make reasonable adjustments apply to religious or faith-based beliefs?
The duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act only applies to disabilities and long term conditions. It does not apply to adjustments for religious or faith-based beliefs.
However, employers should carefully consider changes to roles, working patterns or working environments to accommodate employees’ and job applicants’ religious beliefs – for example, temporarily changing shift patterns to support staff who are fasting.
Failure to do so could be discriminatory.
A guide to religious or faith-based beliefs and discrimination is available from Acas.
Should I tell my employer if I have a disability?
Before your employer is required to make adjustments they must know, or be reasonably expected to know, that you have a disability.
This means that, if you tell them you have a disability and are finding any aspect of your job difficult, they have a duty to make adjustments that are reasonable.
Even if you have not told them you have a disability, if you are finding any part of your job difficult, or have returned to work after a long-term illness, they should consider whether you have a disability and make adjustments that are reasonable. They should respect your privacy and confidentiality and should not ask intrusive questions, but if they cannot reasonably be expected to know that you are disabled and placed at a disadvantage, the duty does not apply.
An employer cannot ask about your health or disability before offering you a job. They can ask about adjustments you may need for a job interview or assessment, but can only ask about adjustments for the job itself once they have made you a job offer.
Your employer must treat information about your health or disability as confidential. This is also classed as special category data under the GDPR and subject to stricter controls than other types of personal information.
If your employer treats you unfavourably because you have a disability, this will be unlawful discrimination and you can bring an employment tribunal claim. You do not need to have been employed for any minimum length of time to do this.
How should I ask for adjustments?
If you want your employer to make adjustments you will need to give them, or someone acting on their behalf such as an occupational health adviser, enough information for them to do so. You should explain to them how your disability affects your work.
It is for your employer, not you, to decide what adjustments need to be made and what is reasonable, but if you have your own ideas then they should consider them.
It is a good idea to put your request in writing, or to check that your employer or their occupational health adviser has made an accurate record of the need for adjustments, so that you can follow it up if they fail to make them.
What sort of adjustments can I ask for?
An adjustment can be anything that removes or reduces the difficulty you are experiencing. Examples include:
- special interview arrangements
- more time to complete interview tests
- reallocating duties
- changing or reducing hours
- changes to staff training
- allowing additional breaks
- allowing working from home
- a phased return after sickness absence
- time off for medical treatment
- modifying sickness absence procedures
- providing a ground floor office
- allocating a parking space
- removing bright lights above a workstation
- providing specialist equipment
- providing a support worker such as a sign language interpreter
What is reasonable?
Your employer should implement any adjustments in a timely fashion. How long this will take depends on their resources and the type of adjustments needed. For example, if you need an adjustment to the sick pay policy this can be done almost immediately, but if you require physical changes to the premises this could take weeks.
Even so, it may be a good idea to request a response to your initial request within a certain timescale such as 14 days, and for regular updates if the adjustments are likely to take some time. This means that you will become aware if they are not complying with their duty.
Employers only need to go so far as is “reasonable” when making adjustments. Factors that can help decide what is reasonable include:
- how practical they are
- the employer’s size and resources
- costs and disruption
- the effect on other workers
- the availability of external support, such as advice from Access to Work
Who pays for the adjustments?
It is the employer’s responsibility to pay for any adjustments. They are not allowed to require the person with a disability to pay for them.
If your employer says they cannot pay for adjustments (including mental health support), you can contact the government Access to Work scheme. They may be able to provide a grant to your employer, and they can speak to your employer on your behalf.
What can I do if my employer refuses?
If your employer has failed to make reasonable adjustments, you can bring a claim in an employment tribunal. Contact your CSP workplace reps or contact the enquiries team as soon as possible after any employer refusal.
Tribunal claims needs to be made three months less one day from the date of the final act of discrimination, so speedy action is required. Time starts to run from the date your employer tells you that they are not going to make adjustments, or once it becomes clear that they are not doing so. The first step in a tribunal claim is to contact Acas (or the Labour Relations Agency in Northern Ireland).
Where can I get more information?
- The CSP Equality and Diversity toolkit provides a practice guide to the 2010 Equality Act for CSP stewards, managers and members.
- The EHRC has online guidance on reasonable adjustments with examples of steps that it may be reasonable to expect an employer to take.
- You can also find examples and common questions and answers on the TUC’s Worksmart website.
- The Acas advice hub includes information on reasonable adjustments.
- Further information on the law is set out in guidance from Thompsons solicitors.
- A Legal Explainer which covers 250 tribunal cases covering reasonable adjustments both in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is available from Legal Island.
- The CSP’s Building a Better Balance resource aims to improve opportunities for flexible working arrangements for all healthcare staff.
What arrangements are there in the NHS?
Many NHS employers will have dedicated policies, guidance and toolkits for staff and managers to agree Reasonable Adjustments.
Otherwise, employer policies on Reasonable Adjustments – and other tailored adjustments not in scope of the Equality Act – is often found in HR documents covering managing employee absence.
Sitting above these employer-level documents:
- NHS Wales’ Policy for Managing Attendance at Work covers both reasonable adjustments, and tailored adjustments for all staff, including who don’t meet the legal thresholds required for protection under the Equality Act.
- The NHS Terms and Conditions Handbook details agreements covering staff in all UK nations, and includes all agreements reached by the NHS Staff Council. The NHS Staff Council reached an agreement in 2021 for new flexible working arrangements for staff in England, Wales and Scotland, intended to make flexible working arrangements available for all staff in the NHS.
- NHS Employers have published toolkits for NHS managers (England and Wales):
In addition to their obligations to staff, NHS employers and services have an obligation to provide reasonable adjustments to patients and carers, and to avoid putting people with a disability at a substantial disadvantage to people who do not have a disability when accessing NHS services.
If you need support on an employment matter or on health and safety, contact your workplace rep in the first instance. Or call the CSP Enquiries Team on 020 7306 6666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.