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The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 (and tips for employers)

Free legal advice on disability in the workplace - man sat in wheelchair

Nearly 1500 disabled employees and 400 managers recently responded to The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023. The survey assessed the extent to which the needs of disabled employees were being met and reached some interesting findings for employers.

The survey was run by the Business Disability Forum, a leading disability inclusion organisation, and is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research on the experiences of disabled employees when requesting adjustments in the workplace. 

In this article, Myerson Solicitors summarise the survey findings, highlight the legal duties that employers need to be aware of in this area and finish with some useful best practice tips.

What did the survey find?

The key findings were as follows:

  • 78% said they had to initiate the process of getting adjustments themselves rather than the employer doing this for them.
  • 58% said getting the needed adjustments was due to how assertive and confident they are to ask for that support.
  • 56% said there are still disability-related barriers in the workplace after adjustments have been made.
  • Only 37% feel their employer is genuine about removing all disability-related barriers and making the workplace inclusive for disabled employees.
  • Only 18% of disabled employees said their adjustments had removed all barriers in the workplace.
  • Only 10% said it was easy to get the adjustments they needed.

The survey was last run in 2019. When the results are compared, it is revealed that the speed of getting adjustments has improved by 4% in the last four years. One in 8 disabled employees reported in this year’s survey that they are waiting over a year to get the adjustments they need.

The responses demonstrate that employees with disabilities and long-term health issues wait an unacceptably long time for reasonable adjustments. The vast majority reported having had to instigate the process themselves or even fund the adjustments out of their own pocket. The survey’s remit was not limited to adjustments but also touched on other disability-related barriers at work. These included bullying and harassment, limited career progression and development opportunities, and inaccessibility of well-being programs.

What are the adjustments, and why are they important?

It’s important for employers to provide appropriate support to employees with ongoing medical conditions. Workplace adjustments are made to alleviate a disadvantage that a particular person suffers due to a medical condition. What represents a suitable and effective adjustment will be case-specific. However, examples might include:

  • Adjusting the lighting above someone’s desk.
  • Adding a wheelchair ramp.
  • Changing someone’s working patterns or allowing regular breaks throughout the day.

Aside from legal reasons, support measures such as these can help ensure that employees feel supported, included and valued. They can boost performance levels and foster stronger employee relations, a safer working environment and improve retention levels.

In addition, where an employee’s medical condition is serious enough to qualify as a “disability” for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, a legal duty is imposed on employers to make reasonable adjustments to remove or alleviate the disadvantages in work faced by the disabled employee. Therefore, a failure to make adjustments could result in a claim for failure to make reasonable adjustments; it could also result in various other disability discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010.

Even if the condition does not qualify as a disability, mishandling the situation by failing to offer support and adjustments to an employee with a medical problem could, in some cases, lead to other liabilities for an employer, such as unfair dismissal claims or breaches of an employer’s health and safety obligations.

Reasonable adjustments claims

An employer’s legal duty to make reasonable adjustments is owed to both employees and job applicants who have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 (and, in this context, “employees” carries a definition wide enough to include employees, workers and some self-employed individuals).

An individual’s condition will meet the definition of a disability if they can show they have “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”).

What will be a “reasonable” adjustment will vary depending on the circumstances, as the term is not statutorily defined. However, the following factors should be weighed up by the employer:

  • The cost involved in making any adjustment;
  • The nature and size of the employer’s business;
  • The extent of the financial and other resources available to the employer;
  • The availability of external financial or other assistance;
  • The practicalities of making the adjustment; and
  • The potential effectiveness of any adjustments in removing or reducing the disadvantage suffered by the disabled worker or applicant compared to a non-disabled person.

In most cases where there has been a failure to make reasonable adjustments, the individual is likely to first make an informal complaint or raise a formal grievance, which might offer the employer an opportunity to amicably resolve the issues.

In other cases, the matter may escalate to a discrimination claim in the employment tribunal. Damages for discrimination claims are uncapped, and so the cost consequences can be severe. Furthermore, discrimination claims can be very damaging reputationally for an organisation.

We have put together some tips for employers to consider when dealing with disabled employees and when faced with a need to make reasonable adjustments.

Tips for employers

  • Create a supportive environment which is free from stigma and fear of stigma.
  • Encourage staff to be open about their disability by communicating clearly that disability support is available.
  • Consider implementing training on how to support staff members with disabilities and implement effective adjustments.
  • Engage with the employee or job applicant to understand the disadvantage they face so that reasonable adjustments can help them overcome this.
  • Identify which adjustments can be made in your workplace without having to undergo a formal adjustments procedure or occupational health assessment, for example, enabling flexible hours or providing a quiet area in the office for employees to sit in when they need a break.
  • Consider whether further medical information is needed from an occupational health assessment or the individual’s GP, which may also highlight suitable recommended adjustments.
  • Use staff engagement surveys to gain a greater understanding of the experiences of employees and managers during the process of making reasonable adjustments.
  • Keep adjustments under review. Schedule routine catch-ups with the individual to check that adjustments are still appropriate and helpful.

Article written and contributed by Dionne Elgott, Myerson Solicitors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Myerson Solicitors directly.

Published on 3rd August 2023
(Last updated 30th November 2023)

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