Reasonable Adjustments

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The problem

A recurring issue in disability discrimination matters is what exactly constitutes a reasonable adjustment.  Not only do we have to work out what sort of adjustments should be considered, we also have to consider whether those adjustments are reasonable in the circumstances.

The principle

It is well established under the Equality Act 2010 that employers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to premises or working practices to help disabled job applicants and employees. Failure to consider (and perhaps make) adjustments exposes the employer to the risk of discrimination claims.

As stated above, the problem often arises when trying to decide whether a possible adjustment is reasonable.  In the case of Wade v Sheffield Hallam University (UKEAT/0194/12) a position became vacant following a restructuring exercise by the university. The restructure resulted in Ms Wade’s role being deleted.  She applied for a new post and was unsuccessful.  Two years on the same job became vacant and Ms Wade applied but was rejected again.  The question before the Tribunal in this particular case was whether or not the duty to make reasonable adjustments was breached by the university’s requirement that Ms Wade go through a competitive interview process rather than automatically appoint her to the new role.

Earlier case law has indicated that removing the need to go through a competitive interview process can be a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee.  However, the EAT on this occasion confirmed that there was no breach of the duty to make a reasonable adjustment. This was because Ms Wade could not meet the essential criteria necessary for the role (and was therefore unsuited to it).

The practice

In some ways this case is a little confusing. Whilst the EAT acknowledges that removing a competitive interview process may be a reasonable adjustment, in this case, this was not considered necessary and therefore this was not regarded as a failure to make a reasonable adjustment.

The headline principal to take from this case is that the assessment of what constitutes reasonable adjustments is to be considered on a case by case and employer by employer basis. We continue to recommend that a thorough assessment of any possible adjustment be made before deciding if the adjustment should or should not be made.

For more information, help or advice please contact Tim Davies on 091 211 7927.