HR Expert: Reasonable adjustments & employers obligations

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A client has contacted me regarding reasonable adjustments for disabled employees, following a discussion they have had with an individual they have recently offered employment to. The individual has said that they might be getting government support to help them into work following a change to the governments Work Capability Assessments (WCA), but in the meantime would my client still consider taking them on? How do you suggest my client approach this?

It would seem the individual is referring to the recent announcement by the government that it is commencing consultation on changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), following the Health and Disability White Paper published earlier this year. This is hoped to better support those who are currently being held back from improving their lives through work to realise their potential, and to ensure WCA’s reflect the latest opportunities for employment support, so that growing numbers of disabled people are not missing out on the help available, particularly given the known health benefits from working. However, as this is just consultation, any changes are a long way off.

Nevertheless, the Equality Act 2010 puts your client under an obligation to consider reasonable adjustments for disabled individuals and employees, that are designed to remove the disadvantages they face compared to those who are not disabled.

In order for the duty to make reasonable adjustments to apply, the individual must meet the definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act. A “disability” is a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial (more than minor or trivial) and long-term (the impairment has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 12 months) adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The purpose of the duty is to put in place adjustments that are:

• reasonable
• address the substantial disadvantage faced by the disabled individual or employee.

In light of the above I suggest your client speak to the individual to find out more information from them about what adjustments might be needed to accommodate their disability, to enable them to perform the role. Where such adjustments, including working from home, are reasonable, your client should implement them. Reasonableness will depend on the nature of the disability and the work and the size and resources of your clients organisation.

Failing to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments means, in reality, that an organisation has discriminated against the individual. Where this duty is not complied with, this could lead to a claim before the employment tribunal.

Where an employment tribunal judges that an organisation has failed to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments, compensation is unlimited. The individual could also receive a monetary award for any “injury to feelings”. As such, your client could risk a hefty pay-out if they fail to act on this.

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