Making reasonable adjustments

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Sometimes reasonable adjustments can be made to enable your employee to remain at work, or, if they are off sick, to return to work.

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All you need to know in 30 seconds

Reasonable adjustments can be made to help an employee to remain at work instead of taking sickness absence, or return to work earlier after a period of absence.

You will need to work with human resources (HR), occupational health (OH) and the employee to discuss possible and practical adjustments, which could include allowing time for medical appointments, reduced duties, extra training or modified equipment. Where applicable, you could also consider phased return, part time working and extra support for the first few weeks your employee is back at work.

Discuss any adjustments fully with the employee to see if it is suitable, and would enable them to do the duties they have agreed to without exacerbating their health complaint. Approach all of your employees in the same way and discuss adjustments openly.

Other points to bear in mind could include:

  • carrying out risk assessments for the employees' work areas
  • altering the job to remove the most physically (or mentally) demanding work until the employee is completely rehabilitated back into the workplace
  • providing access to occupational health, counselling or physiotherapy
  • the affect on the employees' pay
  • arranging extra support in the first weeks back.

All you need to know in detail

Sometimes reasonable adjustments can be made to enable your employee to remain at work, or, if they are off sick, to return to work. Where this is the case, it is important that you and the employee work together to ensure that any adjustments are practicable. Where needed this may also involve HR, OH or other support available, for example Access to Work. It is important that you discuss any adjustments fully with the employee to see if the adjustment is suitable and would enable them to do the duties they have agreed to without exacerbating their health complaint. The sooner you have this conversation, the more time you will have to arrange for the support, equipment or adjustments needed. Making adjustments could also mean your staff member could return to work sooner.

Reasonable adjustments is an area that often causes concern for line managers due to the requirements of the Equality Act. However, if you approach all employees in the same way and discuss reasonable adjustments openly, seeking advice where necessary from OH or other experts then this should help you handle the process with confidence. You are not expected to know what adjustments should be made but you must consider them and work with the employee and professionals to identify and apply them when required.

Where ill health, injury or other impairment meet the relevant criteria under The Equality Act 2010, discrimination is prohibited and ‘reasonable adjustments’ to working arrangements must be considered. However, considering adjustments where relevant and applying this approach consistently to all employees is the recommended approach.

It is important that advice is sought from OH and HR when determining whether any reasonable adjustments or modifications can be made to the existing workplace and/or duties. A risk assessment should be carried out as appropriate. Some examples include:

  • allowing an employee time off to attend medical appointments
  • modifying a job description to take away tasks that cause particular difficulty
  • offering flexibility in working hours/patterns, i.e. reduced hours, working from home or a phased return
  • transfer of workplace
  • acquiring or modifying equipment and ensuring suitable access to premises for people using wheelchairs or crutches, providing taxi to and from workplace or giving access to on-site parking
  • social or cognitive support
  • extra training and refresher courses
  • providing support to overcome barriers to returning to the workplace.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) suggests that the following work adjustments can be made to assist an employee’s return to work:

  • provide new or modify existing equipment and tools, including IT, modified keyboards
  • modify workstations, furniture, movement patterns
  • modify instructions and manuals
  • modify work patterns or management systems and style to reduce pressure and give the employee more control 
  • modify procedures for testing, assessment and appraisal
  • provide the employee with a mentor or ‘buddy’ while they regain confidence in the workplace 
  • provide supervision
  • reallocate work within the team
  • provide alternative work.