Asking your employer for changes to help you if you’re disabled
Your employer might have to make adjustments to help you do your job as well as someone without a disability. The Equality Act 2010 calls these ‘reasonable adjustments’. They can be changes to policies, working practices or physical layouts, or providing extra equipment or support.
The adjustments have to be ‘reasonable’. What’s reasonable for your employer to do depends on your situation - like the size of the organisation you work for.
Your employer should pay for any adjustments - they shouldn’t ask you to pay.
If your employer doesn’t make the adjustments they have a duty to make, it could be discrimination. You might be able to complain or take them to an employment tribunal to get what you need.
You can also complain if you realised there were adjustments your former employer could have made which might have helped you stay in the job.
You can check if you’re disabled under the Equality Act if you’re not sure if your disability is covered.
Your employer will only have to make adjustments for some groups of workers - some self-employed people won’t be covered. If your employer gives you paid holiday that’s a good sign that you’re covered. If you’re not sure, check if you’re covered.
If you’re an agency or contract worker
If you’re an agency or contract worker, you’re employed by one company but carry out your work for another. Both companies might need to make adjustments for you under the law.
Safina has a visual impairment. She’s signed up with an employment agency to find administrative work.
She’ll usually have to use a computer wherever she works so the agency would be responsible for making sure she has any software or other equipment she needs (if it’s reasonable for them to provide it). The company she’s placed with is responsible for making any changes needed so she can use that equipment with their systems.
Whether it’s reasonable for the agency or that company to make those changes will depend, amongst other things, on how long Safina is likely to be working there.
If you’re not sure if you’re employed by your agency or you’re a contract worker, get specialist help so you know who you can ask.
Check if your employer has to make adjustments
Your employer might have to make adjustments for you if you’re at a substantial disadvantage compared to people who don’t have a disability because of:
- a rule, practice or other working arrangement - the law calls this a ‘provision, criterion or practice’
- a physical feature of your workplace - for example adding a wheelchair ramp if you can’t use the steps
- not having extra equipment or help - the law calls this an ‘auxiliary aid’
A ‘provision, criterion or practice’ at work could include something in your employment contract or how your employer does things at work. This could be the hours you have to work, your work duties, the targets you have to meet or your employer’s rules about sick leave.
A ‘physical feature’ could include the stairs at work, the lighting in the workplace, the toilets or the desk and chair you have to use.
An ‘auxiliary aid’ could include computer software for a blind person, a support worker for an autistic person, or visual fire alarms so that a deaf person can get out of the building safely in an emergency.
Check your disadvantage is ‘substantial’ compared to people who aren’t disabled
You’ll need to show that you’re at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ before your employer has to make any adjustments. This means being affected in a way which is more than ‘minor or trivial’.
For example, if a daily task takes you an extra few minutes compared to others but doesn’t cause you any pain or discomfort, it might be so minor that you won’t need an adjustment. If it means you’re missing your targets and could be given a warning then it would be more than ‘minor or trivial’.
You’ll need to show that someone without a disability would not be affected, or would be affected less than you, by the particular rule, feature or lack of equipment or support.
Check your employer knows about your disability
Your employer only has to make reasonable adjustments if they know or could reasonably be expected to know you’re disabled - and that you're disadvantaged because of it.
If you’re asking for adjustments
Make sure you tell your employer about your disability and how this affects you at work.
If your employer hasn’t made adjustments and you want to take it further
You’ll have to be able to show that they knew about your disability, or that they should reasonably have known, when they decided not to make the adjustments.
For example, if they had reports from your GP or if it should have been obvious to them that you had a disability from the difficulties you were having at work.
Check what you told your employer in your job application or any health questionnaires, and what you’ve told your manager, occupational health or the company doctor.
Work out what adjustments you need
You might have to say what adjustments you need depending on whether you’re still working for your employer.
If you’re still working for your employer and want to ask for changes
You don’t have to say what adjustments you want but it would be a good idea to think of what would help you and explain how it would help. Ask if your employer has occupational health doctors they can ask for advice. They could also contact Access to Work or organisations which support people with your disability.
Try to work with your employer to come up with ideas - if no one can think of anything then they might not make any adjustments.
If your employer hasn’t made adjustments and you want to make a tribunal claim
You should think of some adjustments your employer could have made. They might be things you asked for at the time or that you’ve thought of since. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t mention them to your employer at the time.
If you can’t think of anything your employer could have done, you're unlikely to win a case. Your employer has to show they took reasonable steps to think of possible adjustments, so you can still win a case if you can't think of adjustments. The tribunal will ask you if you can think of any adjustments and your case will be stronger if you can.
Paul was employed as a plumber. His employer dismissed him because he’d been off sick for a year because of pain in his knees. At the time he didn’t object but now thinks he wants to take action.
He’s had advice and is still in time to make a tribunal claim.
He’ll need to think of things his employer could have done rather than dismiss him, like giving him light duties.
An employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments is in section 20 of the Equality Act 2010. Section 21 says that if an employer fails to make a reasonable adjustment it’s discrimination.
There’s more information about reasonable adjustments in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Code of Practice on Employment, chapter 6.
Plan how to ask for the adjustments you need
This will depend on the type of adjustment you’re asking for.
If you want your employer to change working arrangements
If your employer knows you’re disabled, they have a duty to make changes to any working arrangements that disadvantage you. This includes a policy or working practice - called a ‘provision, criterion and practice’ in the Equality Act 2010.
All kinds of policies, procedures and ways of working are included - written or unwritten, formal or informal. They can include dress codes, working hours, working practices, recruitment policies, absence policies, promotion criteria, redundancy selection criteria and work allocation.
You need to be able to say:
- which policy or procedure is causing you disadvantage at work
- how that disadvantage is linked to your disability
- what changes you think your employer should make to the policy or procedure
- how that change will stop you being at a disadvantage
You’ll need to compare the policy’s impact on you with its impact on people who don’t have a disability. If it puts you at a substantial disadvantage (that means it’s more than minor or trivial), you then need to show that disadvantage is linked to your disability.
The next thing you need to do is to say what changes your employer should make. You’ll need to ask yourself:
- what adjustments your employer has already made
- if they haven’t worked, what other adjustments it would be reasonable for them to make
- what adjustments you’ve suggested to your employer
- if your employer made some adjustments but then stopped
Any adjustment should be made to suit you, taking into account your job, disability and the policy that’s causing you problems. Check the EHRC Code of Practice on Employment for guidance on possible adjustments. You can also find examples of reasonable adjustments on the EHRC website.
Your GP or other doctor might have suggested adjustments in a ‘fit note’. If you’re claiming Universal Credit, your work coach might be in touch with the Disability Employment Adviser, who might also be able to make suggestions about possible adjustments.
Seretta’s had 6 months off work because of depression. She’s not sure if she can cope with full time duties yet, and is worried what will happen if she finds things difficult.
She asks her employer if she can work 3 mornings in her first week back, 1 full day and 2 half days in the second, then 3 full days in the third before returning full time in the fourth.
She also asks not to work on the telephones for at least 2 months because she finds that stressful. She asks her manager if they can have a weekly meeting to review how things are going.
If you want your employer to change a physical feature
Your employer has a duty to make a change to any physical feature which puts you at a substantial disadvantage compared to people who aren’t disabled.
A physical feature could be the way in or out of a building, doorways, furnishings, steps, parking areas, gates or toilets. There are examples of physical features in the EHRC Code of Practice on Employment.
A reasonable adjustment could be a change to a physical feature - like adding a wheelchair ramp.
You need to be able to say:
- which physical feature is causing you disadvantage at work
- how that disadvantage is linked to your disability
- what change you think your employer should make to the physical feature
- how that change will stop you being at a disadvantage
If your employer needs consent from their landlord to change a physical feature, it’s a reasonable adjustment for them to try to get that consent. If they can’t get consent, you might need to seek specialist advice.
Liam uses a wheelchair. A step separates the meeting rooms from the other parts of the office. Liam can’t attend meetings in those rooms because he can’t get his wheelchair up the step. He asks his employer for a ramp.
It would be a reasonable adjustment for his employer to put a ramp in for him.
If you want your employer to provide you with extra equipment or support
Your employer has a duty to provide you with help or support if not doing so would put you at a substantial disadvantage compared to people who aren’t disabled. This is called the duty to provide ‘auxiliary aids’.
You need to be able to say clearly:
- what kind of support and assistance you need
- how you’re at a disadvantage because your employer isn’t providing that support or assistance
- how that disadvantage is linked to your disability
- what support and assistance you think your employer should provide
- how that help will stop you being at a disadvantage
Examples of auxiliary aids include specialist equipment, a support worker or a sign language interpreter.
If you need an auxiliary aid to make information accessible, it will be a reasonable adjustment for your employer to ensure that information is provided to you in an accessible format - such as Braille or using screen-reader software.
Lee is deaf. He asks his employer for a sign language interpreter so that he can take part in an important meeting.
Explain how you’re disadvantaged
You need to be able to explain to your employer why you need the adjustments you’re asking for. You should tell them why it’s difficult for you to do your job compared to someone without your disability. The disadvantage has to be more than minor or trivial - the law calls this ‘being put at a substantial’ disadvantage'.
Pete has a knee condition. His employer says that everyone has to be in the office by 9am. This causes him a disadvantage because his condition means he can no longer drive and he can't use public transport because it’s overcrowded in peak time and standing is painful.
Pete could ask to change his working hours so he can travel out of rush hour when he can get a seat. This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment.
Check if the adjustment you want is ‘reasonable’
Your employer has to take reasonable steps to avoid you being disadvantaged, or to provide an aid if you need one.
There’s no definition of what’s reasonable but it will depend on lots of factors, like how easy it would be to make the adjustment or your employer’s resources - a large company might be expected to do more than a small family business, depending on the circumstances.
You should also consider:
- if a particular change would prevent the disadvantage for you - the more likely it is to do that, the more likely it is to be reasonable
- how practical it would be for your employer to make the change
- the financial and other costs of making the change
- how disruptive making the change would be
- what financial or other help your employer has to make a change - like advice from Access to Work
Liz has a condition which affects the nerves in her hand and wrist. She works as a records clerk at a hospital. She finds some parts of her job difficult - using a keyboard and mouse and filing paperwork.
She’s asked her employer to:
- provide her with dictation software to reduce the need to type
- provide a special mouse and keyboard
- reduce the amount of paperwork she has to handle
- allow her to leave her desk for rest breaks in the morning and afternoon, which isn't usually allowed because staff have to be able to answer the phone
- allow her to work from home once a week
All of these could be reasonable except the last - working from home won’t prevent the difficulties that Liz has.
The cost of the special equipment will be a factor in deciding whether it's reasonable for the employer to provide it, but so will the size of the employer, the amount of money they have and if they can get funding from other sources. They can’t ask you to pay for it.
If Liz is answering fewer calls and dealing with less paperwork these tasks have to be done by someone else. Her employer can consider who’s able to do them and what impact the extra work will have on them when deciding if it's reasonable to make the other changes Liz has asked for.
There’s no limit on the kind of changes employers have to make, but it could include:
- changing hours of work, permanently or for a short while if you’re going back to work after being off sick
- changing your work duties - like reducing your workload if you have work-related stress
- providing clear, written instructions to an autistic worker who finds it difficult to decide on the order in which to carry out tasks
- giving a worker with back pain more rest breaks than other workers to allow them to stand and move away from their desk
If your employer’s thinking of dismissing you because you’ve been off sick
If you’re disabled and have been off sick because of your disability, your employer might have given you a warning or taken disciplinary action saying that they’ll dismiss you if you can’t do your job. Before they dismiss you, they have to consider making reasonable adjustments.
If your employer has dismissed you, or is thinking of dismissing you, because you’ve had too much sick leave, they’re applying a ‘provision, criterion or practice’ that workers must have a certain level of attendance.
This places you at a substantial disadvantage compared to other employees who don’t have your disability because your disability means you’ve been off sick more.
You can then argue that has put you at a substantial disadvantage compared to people who aren’t disabled because your disability means you have been off sick and can’t do your work like most people without a disability.
Your employer should make reasonable adjustments, which could mean:
- making changes to your job so that you could return to do some of it
- finding you a different job that you could do
Changes could include giving you lighter duties, making your hours shorter, changing your place of work - like allowing you to work at home or in a different office that’s accessible or closer to home if travelling is difficult. These could be temporary or permanent changes, depending on whether you think you might be able to do your full job in the future.
Your employer doesn’t have to create a job for you but if they have any other jobs available they should consider if you could do them. They could also reorganise some tasks so that you swap some duties with other workers.
If you need some training to do the job, it might be reasonable for them to retrain you, provided you’ll be able to do the job after the training and depending on how long it would take and the cost. For example, it might be reasonable to offer a factory worker a vacancy in the office even if they’ll need some training to do the job.
If you can’t work at all, even with these adjustments, the only possible adjustment your employer can make is to wait to see whether your health improves so that you can go back to work in the future.
It might be reasonable for them to delay making a decision if you’re having treatment - like if you’re due to have an operation in 6 months’ time, or you’ve just started new painkillers.
Asking for reasonable adjustments
Once your employer knows you’re disabled, they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for you if you need them. If they don’t, you should write to them. Remember that you want to continue working there, so make sure your letter is polite and helpful - you’re trying to work out the best solution together.
Explain your situation to your employer. You might also have to explain the law to them if you think they won’t be aware of their legal obligations - like if they’re a small employer or don’t have an HR department.
You should say if you’re asking for:
- a change to a rule or way of doing things
- a change to a physical feature
- extra equipment or support - the law calls this an ‘auxiliary aid’
You can end your letter by asking your employer to consider the adjustments and let you know in writing if they can’t make them or ask them to have a meeting with you to discuss your request. Ask them to respond within a certain time - 7 to 14 days is usually reasonable depending on what you’re asking for.
If you speak to your employer, keep a note of what you asked for and their response. If they agree to make a change within a certain time, make sure you follow up with them if they don’t do it within that time.
If you’re a member of a trade union, you could ask your union representative to help you make your request. If not, get help from an adviser if you need it.
Writing an informal letter
You could try writing an informal letter first. This is most likely to keep a good relationship with your employer. You’re trying to get them to agree to your request without threatening them with legal action.
Your letter doesn’t have to follow a set format, but it should:
- give your employer enough information about your condition for them to understand that you are, or could be, disabled
- make it clear that your condition has lasted, or is likely to last, at least 12 months and that its effect on your day-to-day life is more than minor or trivial
- say what’s causing you a problem at work and how that could be addressed - list any solutions you can think of
I’d like to discuss problems I’ve had at work recently which are related to my health. I’d like to arrange a meeting to discuss these with you.
I have arthritis in my back and have had this for the past year. My doctor said it’s not likely to clear up any time soon.
The arthritis affects my ability to do my job as I can’t sit at a desk for long periods of time.
I think it would help if you could get me an adjustable desk so that I can stand up to do my work.
I’d really like to discuss this with you further, please can we meet for half an hour or so next week?
Writing a more formal letter
You might need to write a more formal letter if you:
- have already spoken to your employer but without success
- need adjustments to be made urgently
- work for a large employer who’s used to dealing with such requests
Dear Mr Kaplan
I’m writing to request that you make reasonable adjustments for my disability.
You’ll remember we spoke a month ago about the changes I need to help me do my job. Since then, nothing’s happened.
As you know, I have a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010. You’re aware that I have arthritis in my back and that I can’t sit for long periods of time.
My job involves a lot of sitting at a desk. I have to take a lot of breaks to stand up or walk around to ease the pain if I’ve been sitting down for too long. This means it takes me longer to get work done.
As my employer, you have a duty under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments where the lack of an auxiliary aid causes me a substantial disadvantage due to my disability.
Failing to make reasonable adjustments is against the law and amounts to disability discrimination.
I believe you can make an adjustment by providing me with an adjustable desk so that I can stand up to do my work. Without one, I’ll still be at a disadvantage compared to someone who isn’t disabled.
I’m asking you to make this change to help me with my disability so that I can do my job. If you feel you can’t do this, please respond to this letter to explain why.
I look forward to receiving your response within 14 days.
If you’re not sure what changes to ask for
Check for charities or organisations which help people with your disability. You could also contact Access to Work for advice. Your employer can also ask them for advice and financial assistance with making adjustments for you.
If you’re a member of a trade union, ask your union representative what changes have been made for others.
If your employer doesn’t make the adjustments you need
If you think your employer’s decision is unfair or they don’t make the adjustments they said they would, you can write to them again if they’ve told you why they won’t make the adjustments and you can think of a way to overcome their objection.
Most adjustments are free or relatively cheap to make. If your employer says it’s too expensive to make the adjustment, tell them they might be able to get help from Access to Work. You can also suggest they look for charities or organisations for people with your condition that might be able to offer a grant to help.
If you’re an employee who’s worked for your employer for more than 26 weeks, you have a right to ask for flexible working. Read more about flexible working.
You could also take time off for medical appointments.
If your employer has an HR or health and safety team, you could ask them to make the changes you need.
If none of these work, you might have to raise a grievance. If you can’t solve the problem by complaining, you don’t need to leave your job. Your employer shouldn’t treat you unfairly for complaining. That would be victimisation.
It can be quite stressful to take legal action against someone you’re still working for. Read our advice on deciding what action to take to find out what you can do next.
Time limits for legal action
If you want to make a tribunal claim, you must start it within 3 months less one day.
It’s important to know when the time limit starts to run so you know how long you have to start legal action. The time limit usually starts when your employer decides not to make reasonable adjustments.
If they haven’t made a decision, the time limit starts after they’ve been given a reasonable period to comply with their duty. If you’re not sure if your employer has made a decision or the date of their decision, it might be safer to calculate the time limit from the date you made your request. This will mean you’ll be within the deadline.
If you miss the deadline, you can make a late claim if the tribunal thinks it’s fair, this is called being ‘just and equitable’. They might consider things like the reason for the delay, the length of the delay and the effect of a late claim on the other side.
You shouldn’t rely on this though the tribunal might decide not to allow you to make a late claim. Act quickly as this will give you a better chance of the tribunal accepting your claim.
The court’s power to allow a late claim is in section 118 of the Equality Act 2010.
In some cases, if you’ve missed the deadline, you could ask for the adjustment again, explaining why you still need it and any change in circumstances - it won't give you a new deadline but might prompt the other side to actually make the adjustment.