Asking for reasonable adjustments FAQ

Frequently asked questions about asking for reasonable adjustments.

No, there is no obligation on you to ask for adjustments. The duty to consider what steps it might be appropriate to take in the circumstances is your employer’s alone.;

However, to ensure that your employer acts promptly and omits nothing, it is sensible to be proactive by asking for the adjustments you believe you need. If neither you or your employer are sure of the kind of adjustments that may be possible for someone with your condition, you can ask for advice from your GP, your employer’s occupational health physician or an assessor from Access to Work.

For information about occupational health and Access to Work, see the answers below.

There is no statutory obligation on your employer to consult you about adjustments, but it is clearly necessary for an employer to do so, since an employer who consults you on what adjustments to make is more likely to comply with its legal obligations.

You will have extremely relevant information and views about what adjustments you think are needed to enable you to keep working or to cope with your workload.  An employer should want to make adjustments in dialogue with employees.

Legal responsibility lies with your employer. In an academy or other independent school, a sixth form college or FE college, a voluntary aided or foundation school, the governing body may be your employer. In a local authority controlled school (e.g. a community school), your employer will be the local authority, although decisions are likely to be made by the school governing body (based on advice from your head teacher) and the local authority’s HR services. If you are employed by an agency, it will be for your agency to ask the school/college governing body to make the necessary adjustments to your place of work.

Most employers will first become aware of your health issues when your level of sickness absence triggers an absence management meeting, as prescribed by your employer’s absence management policy.

Some absence management meetings are triggered after relatively short periods of sickness absence, so you may not know at that stage whether your absence is the result of some underlying long-term health condition or some short-term reason. This is, in any event, an opportunity for your employer to assess your working practices and environment in accordance with its obligations under health and safety legislation.

If it transpires, for any reason, that your working practices and/or environment are causing you harm and need to be adjusted then a discussion should be had (with your Union rep present) about what adjustments it would be reasonable for your employer to make. This may not be feasible, however, if you are too ill to attend meetings.

You will need to keep talking to your employer if the adjustments made do not adequately remove the barriers to your involvement at work and you believe there are further adjustments that would assist in removing remaining barriers.

If you believe work is causing or contributing to your ill-health you need to ask for adjustments as soon as possible and before concern is raised under your employer’s absence management policy.

In the Union’s experience, the majority of workers raise concerns about the impact of work on their health long before they become too ill to carry out the functions of their post, but are ignored until their absences begin to have cost and other implications for the employer. This is clearly unacceptable.

The key to defeating this ‘head in the sand’ mentality is persistence. Unfortunately, your health issues may reduce your energy and/or confidence to pursue your grievances. That is why it is important to engage the help of your Union rep, a family member and/or a trusted work colleague at an early stage. Such individuals may act as your support and continue to highlight your concerns when you are less able to do so for yourself.

You may ask for reasonable adjustments even if you haven’t yet been “diagnosed” with a disability. The law does not require your employer to be absolutely sure that you have a condition protected by the Equality Act before making reasonable adjustments.

Whether or not you have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act is a legal question for a tribunal judge to decide in any event. Your employer should not use the absence of a diagnosis as an excuse to do nothing. Once it is clear that your health has deteriorated or is deteriorating, appropriate action should be taken to address any difficulties you may be experiencing at work as a result.

No. The cost of complying with the duty to make reasonable adjustments falls on your employer and not on you.

In the Union’s experience it rarely takes just one adjustment to remove or ameliorate disadvantage. This is because the impact of a mental or physical health condition on work can change over time. It is sensible for employers to keep adjustments under review and, where it is reasonable to do so, to try different adjustments to deal with barriers to your full participation in the workplace.

Yes, cost can be a factor in determining whether a particular step is a reasonable one for your employer to take. However, it is the extent of your employer’s financial resources and the availability of financial assistance which will determine whether cost is a valid reason for discounting a particular step.

To illustrate, a school with a budget deficit is asked to provide a disabled teacher with a dedicated full-time classroom assistant for a year. The governing body says it cannot afford to fund the full cost of this due to the challenges faced by the school, but will ask the local authority and Access to Work whether they would be prepared to help fund the shortfall. In the circumstances, the governing body is likely to have met its duty even if the alternative sources of funding explored do not yield positive results for the teacher concerned.

Other options for schools include asking local authorities to de-delegate a small amount of funding to create a central pool for making adjustments.

Normally, it is the employer’s financial resources which are taken into account when assessing the reasonableness or otherwise of a relatively costly adjustment. However, the law in relation to local authority controlled schools is complex. In local authority controlled schools with delegated budgets the governing body and not the local authority will be deemed the employer for the purposes of a reasonable adjustments claim. It is the governing body’s resources, therefore, and not the local authority’s budget, which will be taken into account by a tribunal when determining the reasonableness or otherwise of a proposed adjustment.

Local authority resources will be taken into account only in relation to capital expenditure, which includes improvements to school premises.

That would depend on the nature of the request. Making reasonable adjustments can involve treating a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person. However, your employer may have regard to the impact of your request on other members of staff when deciding whether it would be reasonable to take a particular step.

Reasonable adjustments should not be discounted merely because they may inconvenience other workers. The inconvenience to other workers may pale in significance when compared to the risks to your continuing employment (i.e. without the benefit of the adjustments you have asked for, you may be dismissed or forced to resign).

If your request is likely to increase the workload of colleagues who are already overworked, your employer should give serious consideration to employing additional staff, even if it can only afford to do so on a temporary basis. Your employer should not use your request as an excuse to breach its health and safety obligations to other members of staff. Equally, you should not be deemed a health and safety ‘risk’ and health and safety rules should not be used as a reason to deny reasonable adjustments.

In the first instance, contact the Union’s AdviceLine. If the adjustments you have requested are likely to benefit other staff and pupils at your school, e.g. it would improve access for all those using the school premises, it may be sensible to involve your school rep or division/association/branch secretary so that your request can be turned into a request on behalf of the whole school community. A collective approach might also be the most useful if you are seeking adjustments to reduce workload.

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are primarily concerned with enabling disabled workers to remain in or return to work.

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Disability equality toolkit

Useful tools for reps to help them support disabled members.

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