Reasonable adjustments at work: An employer’s guide

What are reasonable adjustments and what do we mean by ‘reasonable’? Roxane Lavanchy explains what reasonable adjustments at work are, their role in creating more inclusive workplaces and how employers can implement them effectively.

Reasonable adjustments, also known as accommodations in the US, are an essential step in removing the barriers disabled and neurodivergent staff face in the workplace and ensuring that they can fully participate and feel included.

There remain many misconceptions about what reasonable adjustments at work are and how and when they should be made. The impact of mishandling adjustments can have damaging effects both on employees and employers. A lack of adjustments can impact employee wellbeing and their work and lead to costly tribunal claims and real reputational damage for employers.


What are reasonable adjustments?

Reasonable adjustments are changes or modifications that an employer makes to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to someone’s experience of disability. This may relate to them applying for a role or performing their duties when in the role. Making an adjustment or an accommodation is not about giving special or preferential treatment. It’s about levelling the playing field by removing the barriers that an employee faces.

The adjustments may vary widely depending on individual needs. They may be:

Making changes to the workplace Changing someone’s working arrangements Finding a different way of doing something Providing equipment, service or support

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 mandates that employers make reasonable adjustments at work to accommodate disabled employees. Similarly, in the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals.


What is ‘reasonable’?

Determining what adjustments are ‘reasonable’ can sometimes be a point of contention, However, in both the UK and the US, the key consideration is whether the adjustment is effective in removing barriers. What is considered reasonable depends on each situation.

As an employer, consider whether the adjustment:

Removes or reduces the disadvantage experienced – you should talk to the person and not make assumptions. (See our tips for approaching conversations below) Is practical to make Is affordable Could harm the health and safety of others.

Who is responsible for funding adjustments?

Employers are responsible for funding reasonable adjustments. A common misconception is that they are expensive and difficult to implement. The good news is that most adjustments are affordable (the average cost is £75 per individual) or may not cost anything at all. It may be something as simple as adjusting the time of someone’s shift. And while some adjustments may incur costs, the support provided will ultimately yield benefits as employees will work more effectively, their wellbeing will improve, and they will likely be more productive.

Access to Work can fund the cost of reasonable adjustments that cannot be reasonably funded by an employer.

Embedding inclusion beyond reasonable adjustments

Whilst providing adjustments is an important step towards disability inclusion, they should be the last step. Ideally, workplaces should be designed where little, or no adjustments are needed. And in some ways, we are already.

For example, things that used to have to be requested and justified as reasonable adjustments have now been recognised as benefiting all employees and are the norm in many organisations. Flexible working, along with hybrid and homeworking, has become the standard in many organisations and this allows more people to reach their full potential at work. We should shift our thinking away from conventional processes and practices that view the individual as the problem or as outside the ‘norm’, and towards universal accessibility.

Requesting reasonable adjustments at work

Asking for reasonable adjustments at work often puts the onus on disabled and neurodivergent individuals to self-advocate for their needs. Many disabled and neurodivergent employees are told that their workplace is disability or neurodivergent friendly, only to have to go through endless hoops and attend countless meetings to access basic accommodations.

Others may be unsure about what their needs are, what they can ask for or scared to disclose personal medical information. This can also be especially tricky when starting a new role as trust between the employee and their employer may not have been established yet. Negative experiences with previous employers, desperation for a new job in the current job market or starting their career and not wanting to be seen as a burden or not knowing their rights might all be reasons why employees are hesitant to request adjustments.

Inclusive design

Instead, workplaces should apply the principles of inclusive design to everything that they do, which will ensure that a wide range of people can access the workplace and attract new talent. It will prepare the ground to ensure strong foundations for inclusion.

Employers should strive to create workplaces where barriers are minimised or eliminated entirely, allowing all employees to reach their full potential.

This means implementing clear strategies, policies, and monitoring processes informed by inclusive design principles. It means fostering a culture of understanding and acceptance through training and mentorship opportunities. And it means continuously striving to anticipate and address the diverse needs of employees in the workplace.

By doing this, organisations can attract and retain top talent, create a more innovative and creative work environment, and foster a culture of belonging and acceptance.

How to approach requests for reasonable adjustments at work

By law, you must consider requests for reasonable adjustments and accept and make those changes where deemed reasonable.

Some tips for how to approach requests for reasonable adjustments include:

Highlight what equipment, support and resources are already available to all staff. Provide examples of adjustments that have been made previously. Emphasise that these are just examples and remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach Do not impose anything on the employee. Encourage the individual to lead the conversation and make decisions together. Adopt a non-judgmental approach. Ask questions and be curious. Focus on the barriers not on the condition – knowing the details about someone’s condition will not necessarily help you. For example, even if you have worked with someone with arthritis before, that does not mean you will know exactly how to support a new staff member who also lives with arthritis. Adapt communication styles when required. Highlight that decisions do not have to be final – someone may try an adjustment and realise it does not work for them.

Examples of adjustments

Consider which of the adjustments below you could offer to all employees.

Change to the workplace

Providing accessible car park spaces Changing the lighting above someone’s workstation

Change to working arrangements

Flexible working Changing an employee’s working patterns Hybrid or homeworking Phased return to work after an absence Distributing someone’s breaks evenly throughout the day

Finding a different way of doing something

Giving someone more time to complete interview tasks

Check out our employers’ guide to Disability Recruitment with tips on how to avoid unintentional barriers.

Providing equipment, support or services

Proving documents in an accessible format Ergonomic equipment Assistive technology or software Specialist support such as BSL interpreters Giving one-to-one support, for example to help someone prioritise their work.

Reasonable adjustments are crucial to remove the barriers that disabled and neurodivergent employees face and ensure all employees are supported and thriving at work. Many adjustments are low or no-cost. However, the journey towards genuine inclusion extends beyond adjustments. Workplaces should be designed where little, or no adjustments are needed.

By anticipating the diverse needs of all employees, organisations can attract and retain top talent, foster innovation and cultivate a culture of belonging where difference is celebrated, and everyone can reach their full potential.

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