What exactly is meant by ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace, and what is ‘reasonable’?

In this video Cat interviews Graeme Whippy who is a Disability Specialist. The interview was filmed by Fred

Video transcript

Cat  from the MS community: So what exactly is meant by reasonable adjustments in the workplace?  What is reasonable and how do they apply to someone with MS?


Whippy, Channel 4’s Disability Specialist: So, reasonable adjustments are things that an employer can change to minimise the impact of someone’s impairment or health condition.  And those things can be physical, it could be changes to the building or the furniture, it could be different IT kit, or it could be non-physical things like changing your working hours or aspects of the job.


Cat: What is reasonable?


Whippy: Right.  This is- firstly, I really don’t like the word ‘reasonable’. I’ll put that right out there now, because when we talk about reasonable adjustments, it’s quite a negative phrase, because it kind of assumes that disabled people are going to be unreasonable by default.  And we don’t talk about ‘reasonable maternity leave’ or ‘reasonable sickness absence’. So why do we talk about ‘reasonable adjustments’. Okay, so there is a reason for having it in the law, because we don’t want employers to be- we don’t want employers to have to go bankrupt because of the cost of making adjustments, we don’t want to have their businesses disrupted to the detriment of everybody else because they’ve made an adjustment.  So sure, you know, adjustments have got to be reasonable, but I don’t like putting that word out front. I talk about workplace adjustments, or just adjustments. But in practical terms, what is reasonable? It mustn’t cause undue hardship for the employer, so that could be financial hardship. Or undue disruption in terms of how it impacts other employees or customers. It mustn’t infringe health and safety. It’s got to be effective. A reasonable adjustment in the eyes of the law isn’t one if it’s not effective in minimising the impact of the employee’s impairment or condition.  So there are tests. But ultimately those tests would be applied at an employment tribunal. So my advice to employers is don’t even go there, you know. Talk to the person about what their adjustment needs are. How can I help you is often a very good starting point. Listen to what they’ve said, do what you can. If somebody asks for something that you feel is going to be very expensive, Access to Work is there to support. If it’s going to be difficult to do, are there other alternatives that would give the colleague or the employee what they need, but not be as difficult to do.  All that kind of thing.


Cat: But what if you, as the employee, don’t feel comfortable, how would you kind of go about that?


Whippy: Right, that’s a really good question and I think this is something that is often overlooked, is the lack of confidence that disabled people have, actually people have in general, people don’t like to make a fuss, yeah?  I’ve just got myself a lovely job, I don’t want to jeopardise that by asking for stuff. Also, I don’t want my colleagues to think less of me, I don’t want my boss to think am I up for the job, can I do it. So, you know what, it’s probably better if I don’t say anything.  And that is such a common issue and that’s something we really need to tackle. But actually, coming to your question, how do I have the conversation, firstly, are you an expert in your own condition? Okay, so you have MS, are you an expert in how MS is affecting you, right?  Because if you’re not, how can you expect anybody else to understand it. So I think the first thing, there’s an ownership, there’s a responsibility on the part of the employee, to be really good and understanding about how their condition affects them, and, in principle, what kind of things can actually help, okay?  Now, if they don’t know that, they need to go and get some advice. Because then they can go to their manager and say, boss, I’ve got x, I’ve got MS, and it impacts me in these following ways and really what would help me do my job much better is if we could make these changes.

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