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Disability: Reasonable adjustments

Many people assume that you can tell if someone is disabled and that they have been from childhood. In fact, most people who have a disability or health problem develop it in later life – only 8% of disabled people are born with a particular impairment. It is difficult to know if a person is deaf, hearing or visually impaired without the obvious clues. Also, many impairments are hidden e.g. diabetes, heart and thyroid conditions. 

People are affected by disability or health conditions in different ways. This can happen suddenly, as a result of an accident or stroke or gradually as a result of the ageing process such as arthritis.

In general:

  • 1 in 3 people are disabled or close to someone who is and are our customers, employees, stakeholders and partners;
  • 1 in every 8 UK employees has a disability – 3.4 million people;
  • 2% of the working age population becomes disabled every year – 78% of disabled people acquire their impairment aged 16 or older.

This guidance has been devised to support us in our commitment to promoting diversity in the workplace.

Disabled people are all different. With a range of different impairments of different severity which may or may not impact on the way they do their job. Awareness of individual differences is essential for disability confidence in the workplace. 

Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. A person has a disability if s/he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The Equality Act 2010 does not prevent you as a line manager from asking for information about an employee’s health or impairment. However, this information must not be used to discriminate. Understanding the negative effects of impairment may also help to you to explore with the employee if adjustments need to be made and what these could be. You must ensure there is good positive communication between the disabled employee in your team and yourself, whilst being sensitive and maintaining confidentiality at all times.

If an applicant or employee in your team tells you that they have a disability be very careful about who else you tell. If you think someone else needs to know you must first ask for the disabled person’s permission. Explain who you think you should tell and why e.g. a co-worker to explain why the work is being done differently, or occupational health because you need specialist advice to support and identify any appropriate reasonable adjustments. In most cases you will not need to tell anyone else what the disability is but simply that the individual has a disability and needs certain reasonable adjustments.

Disabled employees should be managed in the same way as other employees in accordance with the Council’s policies, procedures and practices.

Discrimination occurs when you treat a disabled person less favourably than others without justification and fail to comply with the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee.

There are number of simple and practical ways in which you can make working life easier for disabled employees.

Equality law recognises that bringing about equality for disabled people may mean changing the way in which employment is structured, the removal of physical barriers and/or providing extra support for a disabled worker.

This is the duty to make reasonable adjustments. The duty to make reasonable adjustments aims to make sure that, as far as is reasonable, a disabled worker has the same access to everything that is involved in doing and keeping a job as a non disabled person.

When the duty arises, you are under a positive and proactive duty to take steps to remove or reduce or prevent the obstacles a disabled worker or job applicant faces.

You only have to make adjustments where you are aware or should reasonably be aware that an employee has a disability.

Many factors will be involved in deciding what adjustments to make and they will depend on individual circumstances. Different people will need different changes, even if they appear to have similar impairments.

The duty applies to any disabled person who:

  • Works for you, or
  • Applies for a job with you, or
  • Tells you they are thinking of applying for a job with you.

It applies to all stages and aspects of employment. So, for example, where the duty arises you must make reasonable adjustments to disciplinary or dismissal procedures and decisions.

You only have to make these changes where you know or could reasonably be expected to know that a worker is a disabled person and is -or likely to be – at a substantial disadvantage as a result. This means doing everything you can reasonably to do to find out. This does not however mean asking intrusive questions or ones that violate someone’s dignity. Think about privacy and confidentiality in what you ask and how you ask.


An employee’s performance has recently got worse and they have started being late for work. Previously they have had a very good record of punctuality and performance. Rather than just telling them they must improve, their employer talks to them in private. This allows the employer to check whether the change in performance could be for a disability related reason. The worker says that they are experiencing a recurrence of depression and are not sleeping well which is making them late. Together, the employer and the worker agree to change the workers hours slightly while they are in this situation and that the worker can ask for help whenever they are finding it difficult to start or complete a task. These are reasonable adjustments.


A worker who deals with customers by phone at a call centre has depression which sometimes causes her to cry at work. She has difficulty dealing with customer enquiries when the symptoms of her depression are severe. It is likely to be reasonable for the employer to discuss with the worker whether her crying is connected to a disability and whether a reasonable adjustment could be made to her working arrangements.

There are no hard and fast rules, mainly because what might be a great help to one employee might not be for someone else. The duty to make adjustments requires employers to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take, in all circumstances of the case.  The Act does not specify any particular factors that should be taken into account. The following are some of the factors which might be taken into account when deciding what is a reasonable step for an employer to have to take:

  • Whether taking any particular steps would be effective in preventing the substantial disadvantage.
  • The practicability of the step
  • The financial and other costs of making the adjustment and the extent of any disruption caused
  • The extent of the employers financial or other resources
  • The availability to the employer of financial or other assistance to help make an adjustment (such as advice through access to work) and
  • The type and size of the employer

Many adjustments cost little or nothing and are often a matter of flexibility and developing a creative approach to working practice, such as, enabling an employee to work flexible hours, taking food breaks to manage diabetes, or allowing time off to attend doctors’ appointments.

Other adjustments might involve:

  • making changes to premises
  • getting or modifying equipment such as a CCTV if an employee has sight issues, voice-activated computer software, telephones adapted with an amplifier if the employee is hearing impaired
  • translating instructions and reference manuals into accessible formats, such as large print and audio cassette
  • providing a reader or sign language interpreter
  • giving feedback in particular way or allowing the employee to work in a private room if you work in an open plan office.

Example: Providing information in accessible formats

The format of instructions and manuals might need to be modified for some disabled workers (for example, produced in Braille or on audio tape) and instructions for people with learning disabilities might need to be conveyed orally with individual demonstration or in easy read. Employers may also need to arrange for recruitment materials to be provided in alternative formats

Example: Making adjustments to premises

An employer makes structural or other physical changes such as widening a doorway, providing a ramp or moving furniture for a wheelchair user; relocates light switches, door handles or shelves for someone who has difficulty in reaching or provides appropriate contrast in decor to help the safe mobility of a visually impaired person.

Example: Allocating some of the employees duties to another worker

An employer reallocates minor or subsidiary duties to another worker as a disabled worker has difficulty doing them because of their disability. For example, the job involves occasionally going onto the open roof of a building but the employer transfers this work away from a worker whose disability involved severe vertigo.

Example: Altering employee’s hours of working or training

An employer allows a disabled person to work flexible hours to enable them to have additional breaks to overcome fatigue arising from their disability. It could also include permitting part time working, or different working hours.

Example: Assigning the worker to a different place of work or training

An employer relocates the work station of a newly disabled worker (who now uses a wheelchair) from an inaccessible third floor office to an accessible one on the ground floor.

Example: Giving or arranging for training or mentoring (whether for the disabled worker or any other worker).

This could be training in particular pieces of equipment which the disabled worker uses, or an alteration to the standard workplace training to make sure it is accessible for the disabled employee

All employees are trained in the use of a particular machine but an employer provides slightly different or longer training for an employee with restricted hand or arm movements, or training in additional software for a visually impaired person so they can use a computer with speech output.

An employer provides training for workers on conducting meetings in a way that enables a deaf staff member to participate effectively. A disabled person returns to work after a 6 month period of absence due to a stroke.

Their employer pays for them to see a work mentor, and allows time off to see the mentor, to help with their loss of confidence following the onset of their disability.

If an employee has a disability or a long-term health condition, the sickness absence may have nothing to do with the disability. S/he may have caught flu, chicken pox or a cold. However, if the employee’s sickness absence is related to a disability, as the employer we have a duty under the Act to make reasonable adjustments.

Adjustments relating to absences can take a number of forms:

  • Predictable short-term absences: time off every week for treatment or counseling for example. Consideration could be given to accommodating this if it cannot be done outside working hours
  • Unpredictable short-term absences: if these happen often and for a variety of reasons, this may for instance be the onset of depression or another condition. The reasons for this absence should be explored at Return to Work Interviews. Consideration could be given to working flexible hours or a change of workload for an agreed period
  • Predictable long-term absence: an employee may be recovering after an operation, in which case reasonable adjustments should be discussed prior to the operation and before return to work. This may include maintaining contact, a phased re-introduction to work, or any appropriate reasonable adjustments to enable an individual to do their job well on their return
  • Unpredictable long-term absence: if an employee has hit the triggers within the Sickness Absence Management Policy, you will want to discuss what adjustments or support would enable him/her to work effectively.

Sickness absence records should record separately disability and non-disability related absences, especially as it may be necessary to discount all or some disability related absences for the following purposes:

  • disciplinary procedures
  • performance appraisals and ongoing professional development
  • references

If an employee is off work and receiving sick pay, s/he is certified as unfit for work. With the advice of the Occupational Health Advisor a phased return to work can be considered as outlined within the Sickness Absence Management Policy. To assist in facilitating an earlier return to work.

If an employee is unable to return to work, and no reasonable adjustments or redeployment are possible, it may be lawful for the contract of employment to be terminated.

Ultimately, this is the pension fund’s trustees’ decision. But only if no reasonable adjustments or redeployment are possible can retirement on ill-health grounds be recommended. If an employee has private health insurance, s/he should explore making a claim.

If you manage a disabled employee you should speak to the individual on a regular basis and seek advice as required from the Occupational Health Unit to ensure the individual has the necessary support to develop, and utilise his/her full abilities and skills. This should be done as a minimum in line with the Council’s Helping People to Perform Process but agreement can be reached with the individual to meet informally on a more regular basis if this is necessary to support the employee. The template at Appendix A can support you and the individual with this discussion.

It is important to re-visit areas where adjustments have already been made as new or modifications to existing adjustments may need to be explored, for example, new equipment may be available or working arrangements may need to be modified.

The individual may have identified some specific training or development that would support them that needs to be considered or the effects of their particular disability may be changing and new issues need to be considered.

The health and safety provisions which apply to all employees equally apply to disabled employees. However a specific risk assessment of the work practices may need to be undertaken, in partnership with the disabled employee. There may also be additional emergency and evacuation procedures that need to be considered e.g. appropriate fire alarm signal if hearing impaired.

People often worry about saying the wrong thing when talking to disabled people. However, it’s important to remember that a patronising, thoughtless or rude manner is far more offensive than the actual language used.

If you are unsure about how to say something, ask the disabled person what they would prefer. Respectful language about disability and disabled people should be used regardless of whether a disabled person is present.

Never describe people by their impairments e.g. an epileptic or a diabetic

Do not use collective nouns such as “the disabled or “the blind”

People without a disability should be described as non-disabled rather than able bodied as people with mental health problems or learning difficulties may also be described or describe themselves as disabled.

Don’t be embarrassed about using common expressions such as “see you later” in front of someone who has a visual impairment or “you’ll hear from me soon” to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

The Council is committed to making every reasonable effort to ensure that when an employee becomes disabled they are able to remain in employment. It is essential that the appropriate support is offered at the right time, and that the individual’s skills, experience and commitment are retained. If an employee becomes disabled, either suddenly or through a progressive condition, you should explore jointly with the employee how this may be impacting on the employee and discuss if there are any adjustments that would support the employee in work.

The outcome of this discussion may identify that the advice of specialists, via the Occupational Health Unit, is required to identify the type of adjustments that are appropriate. In many cases the employee will be able to identify simple and practical solutions that would support him/her.

Once advice has been obtained you should discuss this with the employee and the issues that need to be considered. Advice may need to be sought from the HR teams at this stage if flexible working or redeployment to an alternative post has been recommended. As part of discussions between you and the employee any reasonable adjustments need to be considered. The template at Appendix A provides a structure for this discussion which can be agreed by you and the employee.

The standards a disabled candidate and recruiting manager can expect from the Recruitment & HR Team

The Recruitment Team will respond promptly to requests for an application form in the appropriate format required.

Evidence of ability against the specified criteria will also be accepted in alternative formats, such as:

  • audiotape
  • a separate typed sheet
  • application form completed on behalf of the applicant (advocate)
  • a CV supported by Video/DVD
  • written statements from staff in supported employment projects who have observed the applicant and can comment on their ability to meet the criteria of the Person Specification. 

The Recruitment Team will monitor applications from disabled candidates to ensure that if they meet the minimum criteria for the post (as detailed on the person specification) that they have been guaranteed an interview in line with the Authority’s commitment under the disability symbol.

It will also write to all candidates invited to interview asking if there are any access requirements or adjustments that need to be accommodated as part of the recruitment process and ensure the recruiting manager is informed promptly.

In addition it will ensure the recruiting manager has a named HR Officer to advise him/her on implementing the reasonable adjustments for the selection process and prior to the candidate’s first day of employment. This may require assistance from the Occupational Health Unit and external organisations as appropriate.

The recruiting manager’s responsibilities

This section outlines the key considerations and responsibilities as a recruiting manager when you receive an application from a disabled candidate:

  • Person specification: When developing the person specification you should carefully consider what qualities are necessary to carry out the job and the use of short-listing criteria that relates to an applicants health and/or physical fitness should not be used, e.g. Replace “must be able to touch type at 80wpm” with “must be able to produce accurate reports using a word processing package” or replace “must be able to drive and have a clean current driving license” with ”must have the ability to travel”.
  • Advertisements: When a vacancy is advertised, consideration must be given to the functions of the job. Therefore the advert should be developed using the information contained within the job specification and the "essential requirements" in the person specification.
  • Short-listing: You should always ensure it is clear at all stages of the recruitment process what the minimum criteria for selection for interview are, i.e. the essential criteria on the person specification. If an applicant states that they are disabled on their application form and they meet the minimum criteria detailed they must be shortlisted for interview.
  • Guaranteed Interview: The Council has signed up to the commitments of the Disability Symbol which includes guaranteeing an interview to any disabled candidate who meets the minimum criteria for a job. This includes any tests or assessments as part of the recruitment process. You must ensure that any reasonable adjustments are made during the assessment process so disabled applicants are not disadvantaged.
  • Interview arrangements: You should always hold interviews in a fully accessible venue. All candidates will be asked, when invited to interview or other assessments, whether they have any particular requirements for the interview, e.g. a candidate may ask if the interview can be scheduled at a time which means that they do not have to travel at rush hour. This is also the prompt for a disabled applicant to let you know if they have any access requirements or adjustments as part of the selection process, e.g. an English/British Sign Language interpreter, specialist equipment or a blue badge reserved parking space. It is good practice for recruiting managers to also telephone and email disabled candidates to ask if they have a particular access/adjustment requirement. If the disabled candidate specifies an access requirement or adjustment then this must be accommodated.
  • Interview questions: Ensure you frame your questions to draw out each candidate’s ability, skill and knowledge so you can assess and score against the person specification. There are certain interview do’s and don’t, e.g.

Don’t ask:

“How will the pressure of tight deadlines affect your disability” or

 “What tasks can’t you do in the job profile because of your disability” or

“What happened to you and how did you get your disability”.

Do ask

“This job involves working to tight deadlines. Tell us about situations where you’ve been given a tight deadline to meet and how you ensured you met this” or

“How will you perform the duties outlined in the job-profile?”

After the selection part of the interview has been completed do ask the candidate whether there are any adjustments that you need to consider to support the applicant to undertake the role successfully if they were appointed

  • Selection: Your assessment should be based on the applicant's ability or potential to carry out a task. A disabled applicant should be assessed as if the adjustment required to do the job has already been made
  • Unsuccessful applicants: All unsuccessful applicants must be offered the opportunity for feedback about why. This should be given positively, with the aim of assisting the individual with their continued job search.
  • Induction Period: If the disabled applicant is successful, prior to joining the team, you should ensure that any agreed adjustments have been made, e.g. equipment has been purchased, etc.  You may find it helpful to use the template at Appendix A before a disabled applicant starts work.

Make sure you tell the employee what reasonable adjustments you have already made and what equipment or adjustments you may be waiting to be implemented.

Also check that all induction processes are accessible.

Once the applicant has commenced employment ask the new employee to keep a note of how any reasonable adjustments made are working and of any improvements that may be needed. Agree regular dates to review all reasonable adjustments

Finally, as with all new employees, make sure you let them know what you expect and to ensure that they understand your workplace policies and procedures.

Advice and support is available from the HR team or employee wellbeing team within People Management. 

In addition, there are a number of schemes and government programmes which will offer advice and can also assist financially. Information about these is available through your local Job Centre:

Example 1:
David works as an administrative assistant and suffers from a debilitating condition that causes him to need long term absences on a frequent basis. 

He worked part time, however the non-working days weren’t sufficient to allow him to rest and maintain attendance at work.  He didn’t want to give up work, or reduce his hours any further.

It was discussed and agreed between David and the department that he would trial working 3 continuous weeks, on his part time hours, out of 4.  It was possible in this department to cover the 4th week.  This trial was successful and he now works 3 out of 4 weeks on a permanent basis.  He is happy with this arrangement as it allows him a week for rest, and the department are happy that it was possible to implement a structure to cover the workload.

Example 2:
John works as a teacher and suffers from a condition which affects his voice. He found it painful to speak at the volume needed in the classroom. John visited occupational health and was advised to contact access to work. They were able to fund a microphone and a sound pack to allow him to continue in his role.

Example 3:
Lynne works as a lunch time supervisor and was experiencing back problems, worsened by bending to help children put on their coats before going onto the yard. As a result Lynne was subsequently moved to supervise the junior yard where children were able to do this for themselves. A small change with significant results as it enabled her to stay in work.

Example 4:
Jane is employed as a social worker. Her quality of work was suffering and it was established via a performance review that she had been diagnosed with dyslexia. The Department put in place extensive support including a dyslexia coach who looked at all aspects of the role and broke it down into smaller pieces to enable Jane to have the tools to cope with the dyslexia. They provided voice recognition software on the PC and provided her with a Dictaphone so that she could record what the clients were saying and then transfer the information at a later time. They also allowed her mobile phone to go to answer phone so that the messages could be replayed. Extra time was given to achieve targets and there was scope to delay some pieces of work.

Example 5:
Owen is a refuse driver who has recently been diagnosed with arthritis. He finds it difficult to walk up and down stairs and it causes him pain particularly first thing in the morning. Although there are no concerns over his driving ability he is having trouble getting in and out of the vehicle. Adjustments were made to include minor modifications to the vehicle to help Owen with exit and entry and this enabled him to continue in his role.

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Page updated: 30/03/2021 13:09:31