The duty to make reasonable adjustments requires school and college leaders to proactively identify barriers (both physical and attitudinal) to the inclusion of disabled people in the workplace.

What are reasonable adjustments?

The term ‘reasonable adjustment’ arises in the context of disability discrimination law and refers, in the workplace , to any changes or adaptations which an employer is obliged to make to work premises or to the way work is done in order to remove or ameliorate substantial disadvantage to a disabled worker.  Reasonable adjustments are primarily concerned with enabling the disabled worker to remain in or return to work.

My rights to reasonable adjustments

In the Union’s casework experience many of members who are entitled to reasonable adjustments never ask for them or are never recognised by their employer as being entitled to them.  This is because they either have a health condition, but they do not consider themselves to be disabled, or because they have not been diagnosed with a medical condition. 

  • Do I have to be disabled to be entitled to reasonable adjustments?

    Yes, you do.  In the Union’s casework experience many of members who are entitled to reasonable adjustments never ask for them or are never recognised by their employer as being entitled to them.  This is because they either have a health condition, but they do not consider themselves to be disabled, or because they have not been diagnosed with a medical condition. 

    The definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010 is not reproduced here because, in the NEU’s opinion, both staff and their employers attribute too much importance to it.  The definition of disability is very broad and is likely to encompass almost any long standing health condition (diagnosed or otherwise) which has a more than minor impact on your ability to work. 

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Code of Practice on Employment (2011), to which employers must have regard, says:-

    “In order to avoid discrimination, it would be sensible for employers not to attempt to make a fine judgment as to whether a particular individual falls within the statutory definition of disability, but to focus instead on meeting the needs of each worker…”

  • Am I entitled to reasonable adjustments if I am an applicant for work?

    Yes, you are entitled to reasonable adjustments at all stages of the recruitment process, as well as at all stages of your employment.  

  • When is my entitlement to reasonable adjustments triggered?

    Your entitlement to reasonable adjustments is triggered whenever you are placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to non- disabled staff because of:-

    1. A provision, criterion or practice (PCP); and/or
    2.  the physical features of an employer or prospective employer’s premises; and/or
    3. the absence of an auxiliary aid.

    The term ‘substantial’ simply means the disadvantage complained of must be more than minor or trivial.  It does not therefore carry a particularly heavy burden of proof.

  • What is a provision, criterion or practice (PCP)?

    PCPs are broadly defined and include any policies, practices or arrangements operating in your workplace, whether on a formal or informal basis.  By way of example, an unwritten rule at your school that all medical appointments must take place at the beginning or end of the school day would amount to a PCP.  This unwritten rule may trigger your employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments if it prevents you from attending a medical appointment mid-morning or in the afternoon and this places you at a substantial disadvantage (e.g. because it prevents you from receiving essential medical treatment).

  • What amounts to a physical feature of premises?

    Physical features include, but are not limited to steps, stairways, kerbs, exterior surfaces and paving, parking areas, building entrances and

    exits, internal and external doors, gates, toilet and washing facilities, lighting and ventilation, lifts and escalators, floor coverings and signs.

  • What is an ‘auxiliary aid’?

    An auxiliary aid is not defined by legislation, but is described in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Employment Code (2011) as including a specialist piece of equipment such as an adapted keyboard or text to speech software and auxiliary services such as a sign language interpreter or a support worker.

  • Why do I have to compare myself to a staff member who isn’t disabled?

    You are required by law to compare your treatment to that of staff who are not disabled so that it may be ascertained whether the disadvantage of which you complain arises from disability, or for some other reason unrelated to disability. 

    To illustrate, take the example at paragraph 1.5.  The PCP complained of is the requirement that all medical appointments must take place at the beginning or end of the school day.  On the face of it, this is as disadvantageous to non-disabled staff as it is to disabled staff i.e. no one is permitted to have medical appointments at certain times of the day. 

    However, a disabled staff member who requires essential medical treatment in the middle of the school day for a reason related to their disability (e.g. physiotherapy) will be at a substantial disadvantage when compared to staff members who are not disabled and who do not require essential medical treatment in the middle of the school day. 

  • Does the staff member I compare myself to have to be real?

    No, the member of staff whose treatment you compare your treatment to may be hypothetical.  You may be entitled to reasonable adjustments, therefore, even if you are the only teacher or member of support staff in service, or all the staff in your employer’s service are also disabled.  What matters is the effect the PCP complained of has on you.

  • Do I have to disclose my condition to be entitled to reasonable adjustments?

    You are entitled to keep your health condition confidential if you wish.  In the Union’s casework experience it is often members with conditions such as AIDs, HIV and bipolar disorder who are reluctant to disclose the nature of their disability for fear of people’s reaction. 

    However, if you wish your employer to make a reasonable adjustment, you will need to provide the employer – or someone acting on the employer’s behalf – with sufficient information to carry out that adjustment. 

    The Union’s advice to members in this predicament is to make their condition and their concerns about being disadvantaged known to an occupational health adviser, or where one is not available, to a HR officer or a recruitment agent, where appropriate.  Such individuals will then be in a position to act in strictest confidence and with great sensitivity when advising line managers etc. of the effects of the member’s condition and the reasonable adjustments which are required to be made as a result.

  • When should I disclose my health condition to a prospective employer?

    If you require reasonable adjustments to carry out your duties and have applied for a new teaching post, it is normal to feel some trepidation at the prospect of disclosing your condition to a prospective employer.  What if you are discriminated against and do not get the job as a result?

    Section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 prohibits prospective employers from asking questions about a job applicant’s health before the applicant has been offered the job, except in certain specified circumstances.  One of these circumstances is that the prospective employer needs to establish whether the job applicant “will be able to carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned”

    Exactly what that means is a matter for legal interpretation, but the Union believes it sets a very high bar for prospective employers to meet.  In any event, whether or not a job applicant is able to carry out a function intrinsic to teaching or working in a school/college is likely to be a matter for a suitably qualified health professional to determine, not a shortlisting or interviewing panel.

  • What should I do if I am asked about my health before I am offered the job?

    If you are asked to complete a pre-employment health questionnaire with your application form you may complete it, if you wish, but are not required to do so legally.  You may wish to complete it if you believe that choosing not to complete it may lead a shortlisting panel to fail to ask you for interview.  You are encouraged in such circumstances to make a copy of the questionnaire before you return it, as this may be helpful evidence if you believe later on that you have not been shortlisted for interview, or appointed, because of information you disclosed in your questionnaire.

    If you are asked about your condition or state of health at an interview, make a note of the questions you are asked and by whom.  This may be helpful evidence if you believe you have not been appointed because of information you disclosed during the interview.

    Contact the Union’s Advice Line if you believe you have been discriminated against during the recruitment process.

  • When is an adjustment ‘reasonable’?

    This is a question fraught with difficulty because what is reasonable in one set of circumstances may not be reasonable in another.  A good starting point, however, is to consider whether the adjustment in question is likely to remove or ameliorate the disadvantage complained of.  The employer doesn’t have to be certain that the adjustment will remove disadvantage – only that it is likely to.  Another point to consider is whether the adjustment will enable you to remain in or return to work.  The more likely the adjustment is to keep you in work or help you return to work after a period of sickness absence, the more reasonable it is likely to be once other relevant considerations such as cost have been taken into account.

  • What factors may my employer take into account when considering the reasonableness of an adjustment?

    Your employer is entitled to take the following factors into account when considering the reasonableness or otherwise of an adjustment:-

    • How effective the adjustment would be in overcoming the disadvantage complained of;
    • How practicable it is to make the adjustment;
    • The financial and other costs to be incurred by the employer and the extent of any disruption to activities;
    • The extent of the employer’s financial and other resources;
    • The availability of financial and/or other assistance in making the adjustment;
    • The nature of the employer’s activities and size of undertaking.

    Your employer must be prepared to justify its reliance on any of the factors highlighted above if it is refusing to make reasonable adjustments.

What kind of adjustments can I ask for?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) employment code (www.equalityhumanrights.com) provides a list of the steps that it might be reasonable for your employer to take.  They include, but are not limited to:-

Making adjustments to premises, e.g. widening a doorway, providing a ramp, stair-climbing chairs or non-slip flooring, moving classroom or corridor furniture, altering lighting, or providing parking spaces for disabled drivers.

Example

St. X’s school has had a Hearing Impaired Unit (HIU) for some years.  The school has recently been rebuilt.  Provision for the HIU in the new build is unsatisfactory because of insufficient sound insulation.  This causes high levels of stress for both students and staff (some of whom are also hearing impaired).  Low levels of ambient noise are essential for the work done in the HIU.

The lack of adequate sound insulation places staff and pupils in the HIU at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to other members of staff and pupils at the school.  A failure by the employer and governing body (if different) to take steps to remove the disadvantage may amount to a breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Allocating some duties to another worker, e.g. asking a non-disabled worker to undertake classroom teaching or playground supervision for you.

Example

Mrs X, who is Head of Early years, has undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumour.  Her oncologist has advised her that she can return to work in two months’ time but only if she undertakes limited duties for at least three months on her return.  After explaining this to her head teacher, it is agreed that Mrs X will undertake her usual management responsibilities on her return but that a temporary teacher will be appointed to cover her classroom duties for six months and that this arrangement will be reviewed after five months to determine whether it is aiding her recovery.

Transferring you to fill an existing vacancy, e.g. if there is no reasonable adjustment which may enable you to continue in your current post, you may be considered for another suitable post.  In the case of local authority maintained schools or academy chains, you may be recommended for a suitable vacancy at another school, although it will always be at the discretion of the school governing body whether to appoint you or not.

In a case called Archibald v Fife Council [2004] the House of Lords said that a disabled employee could be transferred upwards, as well as downwards.  In other words, a disabled teacher - if they are suitable and willing - may be considered for a management role as well as a TA or HLTA role.

It should not be assumed that a teacher who is no longer able to teach in a classroom because of ill health will also be unable to undertake the demands of a management role.  In the Union’s casework experience, teachers with health conditions are better able to perform management tasks than teach in the classroom, which is less flexible and may be more physically demanding.

Altering your hours of work, e.g. allowing you to work part-time or to job share or making adjustments to the school/college timetable.

Example

Mr A has been on sick leave for a year with depression.  His GP has recently declared him fit to return to work on a phased return with a gradual build-up of hours.  It is agreed at a Return to Work interview that Mr A will return on a 0.2 fte basis for three months, after which time his hours will increase to 0.5 fte.  There will be a Review by his GP or occupational health after six months to determine whether a further increase in hours is appropriate.

​​​​​​​Reducing your workload, e.g. by reducing your maximum working hours to a proportion of the working week (your working hours should include direct contact time, preparation, marking, staff meetings, parents’ meetings and associated admin.), very limited unsocial hours and only if it can’t be avoided (e.g. weekends and evenings), arranging timetable to allow for regular breaks and more time for planning, preparation and assessment.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Assigning you to a different place of work, e.g. ensuring that all your lessons are held in classrooms on the ground floor if you have a mobility impairment which prevents you from using the stairs.

Example

Mr M works for the local authority’s prison service as a teacher.  Because of his disability (his right arm is amputated at the elbow) he has a problem coping with heavy doors at the prison where he works.  The local authority agrees to transfer him to another prison with electronic doors in the hope that this will make it easier for him to cope.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Arranging home working, e.g. allowing an employee with management and classroom responsibilities to work occasionally from home with regard to both the PPA and management side of the job because it gives increased flexibility of hours, cuts out difficult travel and may provide a more conducive environment from which to work.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Allowing absences during working hours for rehabilitation, assessment and/or treatment, e.g. allowing you to take time-off during work to receive physiotherapy or other treatment.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Supplying additional training, e.g. training in the use of particular pieces of equipment unique to someone with your condition or re-training you in a new subject area (e.g. a conversion course) in order for you to continue working.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Acquiring or making changes to equipment, e.g. providing an induction loop in the school/college hall and other assembly areas, providing magnifying facilities, a visible fire alarm system, or an adapted keyboard or telephone.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Providing a reader or signer, e.g. reading information to you at particular times during the working day if you are visually impaired.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Modifying documents needed to do your work, e.g. producing materials in large font if you are visually impaired or in an appropriate format if you are dyslexic.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Modifying procedures for testing or assessment, e.g. your prospective employer gives you an oral rather than a written test because you have repetitive strain injury (RSI).

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Providing you with a period of disability leave, e.g. allowing you a period of disability leave so that you can undergo treatment and rehabilitation without triggering the school/college’s absence management procedures.  The Union has produced a model Disability Leave Policy, which is available at https://www.teachers.org.uk/help-and-advice/health-and-safety/d/model-disability-leave-procedure.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Employing a support worker to assist you, e.g. providing you with a dedicated classroom assistant because of your mobility problems.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

There is no obligation on you to ask for adjustments as the duty lies with your employer. 

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. 

  • Am I obliged to ask 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, go to Sections 7 and 9.

  • Should I be consulted about proposed adjustments?

    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.

  • Who is responsible for making reasonable adjustments?

    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. 

  • When should the issue of adjustments first be raised?

    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.

  • What should I do if I think my health has deteriorated because of work?

    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.

  • Can I ask for reasonable adjustments even if I haven’t been diagnosed with a disability?

    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.

  • Can I be asked to contribute to the cost of adjustments?

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

  • Is there a limit on the number of adjustments my employer may be asked to make?

    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.

  • Can my employer refuse to consider an adjustment on the basis that it’s too expensive?

    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.

  • Whose financial resources should be taken into account when assessing ‘reasonableness’?

    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.

  • Would it be unfair to colleagues to grant my request for adjustments?

    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.

  • What should I do if I have asked for adjustments and have been refused or have received no answer?

    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.

Below are some other things to be mindful of when asking for reasonable adjustments:-

  1. Hidden disabilities can sometimes be treated with scepticism.  A letter from your GP explaining your condition and its effects is therefore always useful if your condition is hidden.
  1. Educate yourself about your condition by looking up the websites of specialist disability organisations, but remember that you are the best source of information on your own needs.
  1. Talk to your employer in positive terms about what you feel you can achieve with the right adjustments in place.  If you are not positive about adapting the workplace to your needs, neither will your employer.
  1. Be as clear as possible about what adjustments you believe you need.  Unclear statements will only serve to confuse and frustrate the process of making adjustments.
  1. Employers are likely to want to restrict reasonable adjustments to matters which relate directly to your job.  Therefore, seek advice from the Union if you want an adjustment which may be of indirect assistance.
  1. Failure to carry out a proper risk assessment is likely to lead to failures to make reasonable adjustments.  Therefore, always insist, where appropriate, that a proper risk assessment is carried out.
  1. Be aware that your employer might be able to dismiss you while you are on sick leave for a disability related reason or while you have remaining entitlement to sick leave.  Incapability is a potentially fair reason to dismiss an employee, although a failure to make reasonable adjustments may make such dismissal unfair and/or discriminatory.
  1. If your GP declares you fit for work, subject to reasonable adjustments, you should not refuse to return to work once the adjustments are in place.  If you do, it will lengthen your absence and may ultimately reduce the chances of successfully remaining in post. Fight for any additional adjustments you need upon your return to work.

Examples of good practice. How to get it right making adjustments for staff with:

  • AIDS/HIV

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    A person is deemed to be disabled as soon as they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

    Neither current nor previous guidance from the DfE suggests that blood borne viruses, such as HIV and AIDS, carry a greater risk to the health and safety of pupils than any other condition.  Guidance from the former DCSF provided as follows:-

    “Teaching duties do not include any activities which carry a greater than normal risk of transmission of blood borne viruses from teacher to pupil.  If an individual is otherwise fit, they should not be excluded from teaching on the grounds that they are the carrier of a blood borne virus.”

    It would amount to disability discrimination to dismiss a member of staff, or refuse to appoint a job applicant for having HIV/AIDS.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    HIV/AIDS is likely to affect all aspects of your working practice because of the overriding effects of tiredness/fatigue and the inability of the body to fight common infections such as colds and flu.

    Some of the common symptoms of HIV are:-

    • Weight loss;
    • Fatigue and weakness;
    • Respiratory impairment;
    • Light sensitivity or visual impairment;
    • Difficulty concentrating;
    • Chronic diarrhoea;
    • Side-effects of medication;
    • Depression.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    According to the National AIDS Trust (NAT), most workers with HIV require adjustments while undergoing treatment or changing medication.  Otherwise most workers with HIV carry on with their working lives much like any other worker.

    The NAT believes workers with HIV are likely to request the following adjustments on the rare occasions when they do need adjustments to be made:-

    • Occasional home working;
    • Flexible working hours;
    • Secluded rest areas and regular breaks;
    • Time-off to attend hospital and clinic appointments;
    • Time-off for counselling;
    • Easy access to drinking water;
    • Lighting control in work areas;
    • Disability leave for colds and flus and other infections brought on by working in close proximity with children;
    • Safe and confidential places for storage of medication;
    • Advance notification of changes to routine;
    • Nearby access to disabled toilets.

    Further information

    The NAT have produced a guidance document for employers entitled ‘Advice for Employers – HIV@Work’, which is available for download at www.nat.org.uk.

  • Bi-polar Affective Disorder

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    Yes.  Although the effects of Bi-polar Affective Disorder or Manic Depression, as it used to be called, may be minimised with medication, the effect of medication on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities must be discounted.  It is the effects of the condition on a person without the stabilising benefits of medication which ought to be considered.

    The illness varies greatly in duration, but is likely to occur in cycles, with sometimes significant periods of remission.  It should, however, be treated as long-term in that it is recurring.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    Bi-polar is likely to affect many aspects of your working practice because of the incidence of depression and anxiety you are likely to experience if you are without appropriate medication.

    The effects of the illness during the ‘manic’ phase may include:-

    • Speeding up of thought and speech;
    • Inappropriate optimism;
    • Gross overestimation of personal ability;
    • Unrealistic plans;
    • Poor judgment;
    • Hallucinations and delusions.

    The effects of the illness during the depressive phase may include:-

    • Feelings of insecurity;
    • Anxiety;
    • Lack of concentration and stamina;
    • Difficulty mixing with colleagues;
    • Bad time management;
    • Responding inappropriately to negative feedback;
    • Hallucinations and delusions.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    Bipolar UK recommends the following adjustments for people with Bi-polar Affective Disorder:-

    • Occasional home working;
    • Temporary reduction or change in working hours;
    • A personal mentor/buddy;
    • Written job instructions (to aid memory);
    • Positive as well as negative feedback during appraisals;
    • Time-off for specialist appointments;
    • Time-off to adjust to new or changing medication.

    Further information

    Bipolar UK has produced an ‘Employers’ guide to bipolar disorder and employment’ which is available for download at www.bipolaruk.org.uk.

  • Cancer

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    A person is deemed to be disabled as soon as they are diagnosed.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    Having cancer or being treated for cancer is likely to affect many aspects of your working practice because of the significant effect of extreme tiredness and fatigue.

    Your symptoms will depend on where the cancer is, how big it is and how much it affects the organs and tissues.  Below are some of the known symptoms of cancer:-

    • Back and stomach/intestinal;
    • Fever;
    • Extreme tiredness;
    • Weight loss;
    • Dizziness; and
    • Nagging cough or hoarseness.

    Below are some of the likely side effects of chemo and radiation therapy:-

    • Diarrhoea
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Fatigue
    • Dehydration
    • Loss of appetite
    • Mouth sores
    • Insomnia
    • Skin rash

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    Macmillan (the charity) recommends the following adjustments for workers with cancer:-

    • Allowing a phased return to work;
    • Allowing time-off to attend medical appointments;
    • Modifying a job description to remove tasks that cause particular difficulty;
    • Being flexible about working hours;
    • Offering the option to work from home;
    • Maintaining contact – staying in touch;
    • Allowing extra breaks at work;
    • Adjusting performance targets;
    • Providing easy access to the workplace in the case of mobility issues;
    • Providing disabled toilet facilities; and
    • Changing the date or time of an interview if it coincides with a medical appointment.

    Further Information

    For more information about reasonable adjustments in the workplace for people with cancer, order a free Essential Work and Cancer toolkit from Macmillan at www.macmillan.org.uk.

  • Dyslexia

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    Yes.  Dyslexia is a life-long condition which, in almost all cases, has a “more than minor” impact on a person’s ability to carry out such day-to-day activities as reading and writing and following a series of oral instructions.

    Which tasks are you likely to struggle with at work?

    The Union’s casework experience suggests that school/college staff with dyslexia find paper work (which has been on the increase for many years) the most challenging and stressful aspect of work.

    People with dyslexia sometimes experience barriers in:-

    • Writing, reading and spelling correctly;
    • Adding numbers;
    • Listening to verbal directions;
    • Organising;
    • Sustaining concentration;
    • Expressing ideas;
    • Presenting thoughts succinctly;
    • Keeping track of appointments;
    • Remembering phone numbers;
    • Reading maps;
    • Completing forms;
    • Finding their way around strange places;
    • Remembering where things have been placed;
    • Reading time-tables;
    • Reading recipes;
    • Writing letters or cheques;
    • Remembering messages.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) recommends the following adjustments for employees with dyslexia:-

    Written Communication

    • Give verbal rather than written instructions;
    • Highlight salient points in documents;
    • Supply screen reading software and scanner;
    • Provide a Reading Pen for unfamiliar words;
    • Provide information on pastel coloured paper;
    • Allow plenty of time for tasks which require reading;
    • Discuss written material with the employee;
    • Provide speech to text software e.g. Dragon.

    Verbal Communication

    • Give instructions one at a time;
    • Communicate instructions slowly and clearly in a quiet location;
    • Encourage the person to take notes and then check them;
    • Ask for instructions to be repeated back;
    • Back-up multiple instructions in writing or with diagrams.

    Specialist one to one dyslexia skills training

    The BDA also encourages employers to invest in dyslexia skills training, which is “designed to help the employee work more effectively and overcome common dyslexic problems such as work planning and time management.”

    Further Information

    For more information about supporting workers with dyslexia, download a copy of the BDA’s publication ‘Code of Practice: Employers - Good practice guidelines’ at www.bdadyslexia.org.uk 

  • Hearing Impairment

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    There are likely to be two groups of workers with hearing impairments.  The first group will be workers who are perilingually deaf, that is, workers  who were born deaf or who lost their hearing in early childhood.  The second group will be workers who have developed a hearing impairment in adulthood either as a result of age, accident or disease. 

    It should not be assumed that only perilingually deaf workers are protected by the Equality Act.  Any worker requiring reasonable adjustments to access the workplace is likely to be covered by the Equality Act.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    • Communication issues with colleagues and students;
    • Accessing meetings and the life of the school/college.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    • Position of pupils in class (facing the teacher);
    • Reduction of background noise (e.g. could teacher work in a class which is not adjacent to a busy road);
    • Thick carpeting on classroom floor;
    • Good lighting in classroom;
    • Adapted classroom with microphone and speaker system (to hear pitch of children’s voices);
    • Information in advance of meetings, training and induction;
    • Portable induction loops;
    • Adapted phone;
    • Support from lip speakers; and
    • IT or other equipment to support communication.

    Further Information

    For more information about how best to support workers with a hearing impairment refer to the RNID/Action on Hearing Loss factsheets at https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/how-we-help/information-and-resources/publications/hearing-health/.  

  • Menopause

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    That would depend on the severity of symptoms and their effect on normal day to day activities.  At least 45% of women find the symptoms of menopause difficult to manage.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    Pupil contact time is likely to present challenges, although the effects of tiredness and lethargy may impact on other aspects of your working practice.

    Some of the symptoms of menopause are:-

    • Heavy periods;
    • Hot flushes and night sweats;
    • Palpitations (changes in heart rate);
    • Headaches;
    • Anxiety and/or depression;
    • Tiredness;
    • Insomnia;
    • Urinary tract infections.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    • Reduce or change working hours;
    • Allow home working;
    • Increase rest breaks;
    • Reduce stress factors;
    • Provide memory aids, e.g. organisers and written job instructions;
    • Minimise noise from the road/children moving through corridors;
    • Enable the teacher to control her workplace temperature;
    • Avoid fluorescent lighting; provide window blinds;
    • Provide easy access to disabled toilets, plus emergency cover;
    • Provide easy access to cold water;
    • Allow the teacher to report absences related to her condition to a female member of staff.

    Further information

    For more information about how best to support workers with menopausal symptoms refer to the TUC publication ‘Supporting Working Women through the Menopause’, which may be found at www.tuc.org.uk and the Union publication ‘Valuing Women: Working through the Menopause’ at www.teachers.org.uk/equality/women-teachers.

  • Mobility Impairment

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    People with mobility impairments may require the use of a stick, crutches or a wheelchair, or may not require any aids at all. 

    Provided the impairment is long-term, that is, it has lasted for twelve months or is likely to last for twelve months, and has a more than trivial impact on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities, it will be protected by the Equality Act.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    • Access to all areas of the school, particularly on split site schools;
    • Carrying out playground duties;
    • Setting up equipment, carrying books, lifting etc; and
    • Going on school trips.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    • Space to move around school and classroom easily;
    • Situating the classroom on the ground floor.  In secondary schools consideration should be given to reducing the required movement between classes;
    • Locating the classroom near toilets so that teacher has time to use the facilities during a break;
    • Ensuring that school trip venues are accessible (this should be part of inclusive schools planning anyway);
    • Adapting chair/desk/whiteboard/provision of a perching stool ;
    • Providing a support worker or allocated staff member to assist in setting up equipment, carrying books etc; and
    • Providing allocated parking space.

    Further Information

    For more information about adjustments for people with mobility impairments visit the following websites:-

  • Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    RSI is an umbrella term for a range of painful conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis, tendinitis, tennis elbow and Raynaud’s syndrome.  RSI is usually caused or aggravated by work and is associated with repetitive and sustained or constrained postures. 

    The various forms of impairment falling under this umbrella term are likely to be covered by the Equality Act because their effects tend to worsen rather than diminish with the passage of time.  They also place a number of limitations on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities such as writing, typing, signing (for teachers of deaf pupils), holding a tray or griping a cup.

    Which tasks are you likely to struggle with at work?

    You are likely to face barriers with the physical aspects of work, particularly with physical activities which are repetitive in nature.

    Below are some of the symptoms associated with RSI:-

    • Pain;
    • Loss of grip;
    • Loss of movement;
    • Muscle weakness or spasm;
    • Numbness;
    • Sensation of cold;
    • Burning sensation;
    • Pins and needles.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    • Review the design of the workplace and tasks;
    • Provide training on lifting techniques;
    • Provide tools and equipment to meet individual needs;
    • Redesign tasks to minimise repetitive movement;
    • Give breaks for rest recovery;
    • Vary tasks and rotate job;
    • Redesign the work station so that everything is within easy reach;
    • Install rubber flooring to absorb vibration;
    • Reduce time working in cold environments;
    • Provide electronic staplers, easy grip pens, headset phone;
    • Restrict writing/keyboard work;
    • Provide voice recognition software;
    • Keep deadlines and targets reasonable;
    • Provide document holders;
    • Provide an adjustable chair.

    Further information

    For more information about how to assist workers with RSI refer to the RSI Awareness website at www.rsi.org.uk.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    Yes.  Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that some people experience at particular times of the year or during a particular season (usually winter).  Workers who experience SAD may have symptoms of depression that have a significantly adverse impact on their day-to-day activities. 

    The illness varies greatly in its duration, but is likely to occur in cycles, with apparent recovery and then a relapse.

    Which tasks are you likely to struggle with at work?

    SAD is likely to affect many aspects of your teaching practice because of the overriding effects of persistent fatigue and lack of motivation.

    Some of the common symptoms of SAD are:-

    • Lack of energy;
    • Concentration problems;
    • Insomnia;
    • Depression;
    • Apathy;
    • Anxiety;
    • Panic attacks;
    • Mood swings;
    • Susceptibility to colds and flu;
    • Irritability.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    • Light therapy;
    • Temporarily reduced or changed working hours;
    • Time-off work for counselling and treatment;
    • Increased rest breaks;
    • Memory aids e.g. written job instructions.

    Further information

    Additional information about the effects of SAD and the treatments available may be found at www.mind.org.uk and at the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association’s website at www.sada.org.uk.

  • Stress and Anxiety

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    Stress and anxiety may be covered by the Equality Act if their effects have lasted or are likely to last for 12 months or more, or are recurring.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    Stress and anxiety are likely to affect all areas of your practice because of the overriding effect of extreme tiredness and poor motivation.

    Some of the well-known symptoms of stress and anxiety are:-

    • Unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic;
    • Trouble concentrating;
    • Irritability;
    • Restlessness;
    • Stomach upset and dizziness;
    • Frequent urination or diarrhoea;
    • Shortness of breath;
    • Headaches;
    • Fatigue;
    • Insomnia; and
    • Muscle tension.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    The NHS recommends the following adjustments for workers with stress and/or anxiety:-

    • Flexible approach to start/finish times;
    • Paid or unpaid leave for medical appointments;
    • Phased return to work;
    • Regular breaks at work;
    • Home working;
    • Temporary reallocation of some tasks;
    • Support with prioritising work;
    • Focus on a project or specific piece of work;
    • Job sharing;
    • Job coach/buddy/mentor;
    • Increased personal space;
    • Quiet space; and
    • Reserved parking space.

     Further Information

    For more information about reasonable adjustments in the workplace for people with mental health disorders visit the NHS website at www.NHShealthatwork.co.uk.

    Also refer to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ‘Management Standards for Tackling Work Related Stress’ document and to the SHIFT publication ‘A practical guide for managing and supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace, both of which are available for download at www.hse.gov.uk.

    The Union has also produced its own guidance on tackling stress and this may be found at https://www.teachers.org.uk/tackling-stress.  

  • Visual Impairment

    Is it covered by the Equality Act?

    You will automatically be deemed disabled for the purposes of the Act if you are registered as blind or partially sighted. 

    Even if you are not registered as blind or partially sighted, you will be protected by the Equality Act if your visual impairment has a more than trivial impact on your ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

    Which barriers are you likely to face at work?

    • Accessing school and pupil documents;
    • Moving around the school , especially on multi-site campuses;
    • Carrying out playground duties;
    • Going on school trips; and
    • Accessing the school’s IT systems.

    What kind of adjustments may be considered?

    • Support worker/reader, to assist in marking etc.;
    • Adjusting the location of  a classroom (in secondary schools considering adjustments to journeys between classes and location of classes);
    • School documents in an accessible format;
    • Ensuring that school trip venues are accessible (this should be part of inclusive schools planning anyway);             
    • Adjust lighting levels in class;
    • Adjustment to buildings such as guide rails and painting stair edges (which would benefit the whole school community and contribute to the wider inclusive schooling agenda); and
    • Modified IT equipment-large screen monitors, voice recognition technology, braille displays and programmes that read through headphones are all options.

    Further Information

    For more information on how best to support workers with visual impairments refer to the RNIB guide on Staying in Work www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-work-and-employment/staying-work

Reasonable adjustments and pay

  • Am I entitled to pay while on long-term sickness absence for a disability related reason?

    Most teachers are subject to the occupational sick pay scheme operating in the Burgundy Book or to similar provisions.  This means that if you are a teacher in your fourth year of teaching service, for example, you may be entitled to a maximum of two hundred working days’ paid leave for sickness related absences, which equates to roughly six months on full pay and six months on half pay. 

    In recent years the courts have taken the view that the more generous an occupational sick pay scheme the less reasonable it is to extend the period of paid sick leave for absences related to disability. 

    The Burgundy Book sick pay scheme is considered to be one of the more generous occupational sick pay schemes available and employers are therefore unlikely to be acting unreasonably if they refuse to extend the period of paid sick leave beyond two hundred working days for disability related absences.  What is reasonable, however, should ultimately be decided on a case-by-case basis.

    Support staff are not covered by the provisions of the Burgundy Book; but may be entitled to an occupational sick pay scheme either under the relevant Green Book provisions (collective agreements applying to local authority employees) or their own contracts of employment.

  • What if I am absent from work because my employer has been slow to make adjustments?

    In the Union’s view, you should not be placed on sick leave, or suffer a diminution in pay, if you are absent from work because you are waiting for adaptations to be made to your workplace.   In such circumstances you should be placed on medical suspension on full-pay or redeployed to work in an appropriate environment until such time as your regular place of work is made safe for you to start or return. 

    This view is supported by a case called Meikle v Nottinghamshire County Council (2004), where the Court of Appeal held that if the reason for the absence is due to an employer’s delay in implementing a reasonable adjustment that would enable an employee  to return to the workplace, maintaining full-pay would be a reasonable adjustment for the employer to make.

  • Am I entitled to full pay while on a phased return to work?

    There is no automatic entitlement to full pay while on a phased return to work.  Whether or not full pay is a reasonable adjustment for an employer to make will depend, as always, on the circumstances.  However, even if your employer decides that it can pay you only for the days when you actually work, any outstanding occupational and or statutory sick pay may be used to top-up your earnings during your period of phased return.

  • Can statutory holiday pay entitlements be used to top up salary during a phased return to work?

    In 2009 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that workers on sick leave continue to accrue annual leave and that, if workers are not given the opportunity to take annual leave during this time, they should be permitted to carry it over to the next leave year. 

    In the light of this decision, you may continue to accrue statutory holiday entitlement during sick leave and you may ask to use your statutory holiday entitlement to supplement any shortfall in pay arising from the temporary reduction in your working hours. 

    If you work in a school, however, your employer may object to this on the basis that any accrued statutory holiday will be used up during school closure periods (which normally amount to 13 weeks in each academic year). 

  • Will I be denied a pay rise if I miss some or all of my appraisal cycle because of long term sick leave?

    For permanent teachers in schools, the appraisal cycle will normally run for 12 months from September to August.  You should not be denied pay progression because you have been absent on sick leave during some or all of this time.  This is equally true for members of support staff.

    It is the Union’s view that where you have been absent through long-term illness, your principal/head teacher should ensure that a performance review is conducted during the relevant appraisal cycle.  In the event that a review cannot be conducted until you return to work, your principal/head teacher should conduct a review as soon as possible following your return. 

    In the event that your principal/headteacher’s recommendation is to pay you a higher salary on the appropriate pay spine, the award should be backdated to the date on which the award would normally have been made.

  • What kind of reasonable adjustments may my employer make to its pay policy?

    Your employer has a number of options depending on the nature of the disadvantage caused.  For example, your employer may rely on your performance during your last appraisal cycle as the basis for a pay award, or alternatively consider using a different and/or shorter time period as the reference period for assessing pay. 

    If you have already completed two out of three observations satisfactorily, for example, it is likely to be reasonable not to require you to complete the third in order to receive a pay award. 

    In any event, DfE guidance requires pay policies to make it clear how teachers on long-term leave will be treated in relation to pay progression. 

  • Are disabled employees generally disadvantaged by performance related pay schemes?

    A study of pay gaps across equality strands, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), suggests that disabled women and men experience substantial pay gaps and pay penalties. The reasons given are complex, but they include:-

    • A large proportion of part-time working among disabled people, which leads to pay inequalities similar to those experienced by women who work part-time; and
    • A ‘glass ceiling’ that appears to operate for disabled people in professions such as teaching.

    Schools and colleges are required to comply with a public sector equality duty to proactively eliminate discrimination and this includes assessing the likely impact of pay policies on disabled staff, as well as taking appropriate steps to remove disadvantage where necessary.

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