Did you know that if you have a disabled employee and they take sickness absence, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to facilitate their return to the workplace? This duty is borne from a legal requirement to ensure they’re not being discriminated against or treated unfavourably – and may also apply to trainees, apprentices, business partners and even job applicants.

Disabled employees may sometimes need to take some time off to deal with the detrimental effects of their disability. Once on sick leave, a certain factor may end up preventing them from returning to work – such as:

  • A physical obstacle
  • A provision, criterion or practice (PCP)
  • The equipment used for the role

As their employer, it’s your legal duty to put adjustments in place to help them overcome the issue(s).

A few examples…

Say, for instance, an employee’s condition worsens and they become a wheelchair user – reasonable adjustments they may need could include one or more of the following:

  • Installation of an access ramp
  • To be moved to the ground floor if the building doesn’t have lifts
  • Installation of larger toilet facilities
  • Widening of a door

Other examples of reasonable adjustments could be:

  • Allowing them to work flexible hours so they can fit in sufficient breaks which allow them to overcome fatigue caused by their disability
  • A phased return to work, which gradually increases working hours, after long term sick leave
  • Installing a visual fire alarm in addition to an audio one for an employee who is deaf

Your obligations

Identifying a PCP which is discriminatory towards disabled employees puts you under an obligation to make reasonable adjustments, so they don’t suffer a detriment. For example, if you operate an absence management policy where high levels of absence triggers disciplinary action, you may have to adjust those triggers for employees who take a large amount of time off due to their disability.

If the employee is not classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010, then there’s no legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments – but you may still consider making adjustments for an employee who has been off on sick leave, even if they’re not officially recognised as disabled.

When deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable, employers can take into account:

  • The time scale it will take to complete
  • The size of the business
  • The cost of the adjustment

If an adjustment is not reasonable, then the employer is not failing in their duty – but you need to ensure you’ve made a valid and accurate assessment. If you need any advice, please call us on 0844 892 2785.