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What employers should do to help employees with disabilities

What employers should do to help employees with disabilities

Posted on October 15, 2018, by Philip Sayers

October marks the National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and with this in mind, Coodes Solicitors Employment Lawyer Philip Sayers advises employers about what they should do to help their employees with disabilities.

When an employee who has disabilities is placed at a substantial disadvantage by the physical features of their work premises compared to non-disabled employees, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to a workplace. An employer must pay the cost of any reasonable adjustments to their work premises to redress any imbalances.

A disability is defined as being a physical or mental impairment which has substantial long-term impact on the employee’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activity. If the employee meets this definition, and their employer knows that or ought reasonably to know that, then there is a duty to make reasonable adjustment to make that employee’s work life easier.

However, an employer cannot be liable for a Tribunal claim for not making reasonable adjustments, if they did not know, and ought not reasonably to have known, that their employee is disabled.

What may cause employees to be at a disadvantage?

When looking at adjustments to a physical workspace, most employers would be considering employees with physical disabilities, although in some circumstances, such as debilitating claustrophobia, employers should also make adjustments for people with mental disabilities.

There are many circumstances that may cause a person with disabilities to be substantially disadvantaged by the physical features in the workplace.

These could be a feature arising from the design or construction of the building, the access point to the building itself or a fixture, fitting or furniture within the premises. Clear glass doors could also be a hazard, particularly for those with a visual impairment.

Common adjustments that can be made to work premises

There are many different physical things that an employer can do to improve the work place for a person who has disabilities.

These include:

  • Providing ramps and stairway lifts
  • Making doorways wider
  • Installing automatic doors
  • Providing more lighting
  • Providing clearer signs
  • Rearranging the office furniture or moving the person’s work station to a more accessible area of the office
  • Providing a dedicated car parking space
  • Allowing the person to become a home worker if the work premises are overly problematic.

There are a number of factors should be taken into account when determining whether an adjustment is reasonable.

The first, and most important, is considering whether the proposed adjustment would actually help the employee. Put simply if the adjustment of the offices premises will not actually help to alleviate the employee’s disadvantage, then it cannot be a reasonable adjustment that the employer is obliged to make.

However, an employee bringing a claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments doesn’t necessarily have to prove the adjustment would have reduced any disadvantage, just that there is a chance that it would have been successful.

The cost to the employer is also an important consideration when determining whether any particular adjustment would be reasonable, as is the possible impact on other employees. That said it is not generally acceptable for an employer to not make adjustments just because they would be unpopular with other members of staff.

The best thing to do, as an employer, is to work in close consultation with the employee in question to make any reasonable adjustments to the work premises to ensure that, so far as is possible, they are not at a disadvantage when compared to a non-disabled person.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers, Employment and HR team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or philip.sayers@coodes.co.uk

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