What reasonable adjustments should my employer make after an accident?

If you have been hurt in an accident work, on the road, or elsewhere, you may be unable to work for a period of time. Even after you feel well enough to return to work, you may not be able to carry out all the same tasks you did before your accident.

In the UK, employers have a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to an injured or disabled worker’s job role to enable the employee to work effectively. These adjustments help to remove the disadvantages these workers face compared to their colleagues, promoting a fairer workplace.

What are reasonable adjustments?

ACAS defines reasonable adjustments as “changes an employer makes to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to someone's disability”, but the principle also applies to injured and recovering workers.

Reasonable adjustments could include anything an employer could reasonably do to assist an injured worker so they can remain in employment, and on a more equal basis with other employees.

What counts as ‘reasonable’?

Although employers should discuss planned adjustments with an injured or disabled worker, that doesn’t mean the employer must comply with every request the worker makes.

What is considered 'reasonable' usually depends on the unique circumstances of each case. What might be a fair adjustment for a large company to make may be impractical for a much smaller organisation.

In some cases, certain adjustments would be impractical, or unrealistically expensive. Certain injuries may prevent a worker from performing core job role tasks, and some companies are too small and specialised to accommodate a sufficiently adjusted role. It may also be unsafe for an injured worker to continue in their role, either because others are put at risk, or the risk and consequences of further injury are too great.

In addition, employers should be consistent in their support of injured workers, and employees with similar needs should be supported equally.

If you believe your company has failed to make reasonable adjustments, there are steps you can take.

Types of workplace reasonable adjustments

Your employer is expected to implement whatever changes can be reasonably made to support you at work, including physical changes to your working environment, changes to your shifts and hours, and changes to your role.

Your employer may also need to provide additional support services, such as mental health counselling, depending on the context of your injuries.

Physical adjustments

Physical changes could include both providing additional or different equipment, or making changes to your workplace, such as:

  • Ergonomic equipment, like adjustable desks, chairs with better back support, keyboards and mice, or ergonomic and adaptive tools.
  • Specific PPE, such as eye strain glasses.
  • Redesigned routes through the work space, to accommodate a wheelchair user or someone with sight issues or limited mobility.
  • Improved lighting or signage.
  • Safety features like rails and non-slip flooring.
  • Better parking access.
  • Accessible bathrooms, kitchens and other facilities.

Changes made to support a specific injured worker may be in addition to any general alterations an employer needs to make following a work accident safety review.

Work schedule adjustments

During your recovery, you may be unable to work shifts of the same length as before your accident. You may also have difficulty working night shifts, or in loud or cold environments.

In addition, you may need more flexibility so you can attend hospital or physio appointments.

Your employer should prioritise your recovery, and ensure that your work schedule doesn’t compromise or risk delaying your recovery.

Adjusted work schedule options include:

  • Flexible working hours
  • Reduced hours, part-time work
  • Remote work (working from home)
  • Compressed hours (longer hours, but fewer days per week), or vice versa
  • Job sharing
  • Longer or more frequent breaks

A phased return to work may be the best option, where you slowly increase your hours or days works, over weeks or months, until you have recovered.

Job role changes

Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may be unable to perform aspects of your old job. Your employer’s goal should be to retain you within the workforce, without compromising your recovery, your safety, or the safety or your others.

Job role adjustments could include:

  • Reassigning duties, such as physical labour.
  • Supervisory or mentoring tasks, to leverage your existing skills and knowledge.
  • Using assistive technology and tools, such as speech-to-text software.
  • Moving to a different job entirely.

Your employer may also need to adjust your targets and performance metrics, in recognition of the impact your injury or disability will have on your ability to work.

You cannot be forced to accept a new job you don’t want, but it may be that your employer has tried to make reasonable adjustments to the best of their ability. If you don’t agree with the changes made to your job, raise your concerns with your manager or HR rep as soon as you can.

Support services and training

An employer could also provide additional support in the form of access to occupational health assessments, health checks, or mental health counselling. Employers may also need to facilitate an injured worker’s physical therapy and rehabilitation.

If your job role has changed, your employer may need to provide additional training. You may also need training to use assistive technologies or tools that your employer has provided, such as ergonomic equipment or voice recognition software.

Does my employer have a duty to make adjustments?

In general, yes. Under UK employment law, employers must make reasonable adjustments to support injured and disabled workers. An employer cannot simply refuse to make adjustments, and they cannot just fire a worker who needs this support.

If an employer fails in their duty to make suitable changes to support a worker, the worker can take legal action to require their workplace to make adjustments. If a worker has been forced out of their job because their employer won’t make appropriate changes, the employee may also be able to claim compensation.

What laws and regulations apply to reasonable adjustments?

The key piece of legislation is the Equality Act 2021. This is the source of the legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, including injured staff. The Act also sets out what constitutes a mental or physical disability, and what types of adjustments employers are expected to make.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 define employers’ duty to provide a safe workplace, and are helpful when determining what adjustments are necessary.

Other acts, including the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Work and Families Act 2006 help to define reasonable adjustments regarding flexible working.

How do I request adjustments?

Under UK law, employers are expected to carry out assessments to better understand and anticipate employees’ needs. This principle extends to injured employees, and your employer should proactively discuss adjustments with you.

That said, your employer won’t have all the details of your injury or disability, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take the lead and explain to your employer what your needs are. You don’t need to reveal anything about your physical or mental health that makes you uncomfortable, but your employer can’t act on information they don’t have.

This process should be collaborative and a one-size-fits-all solution may not work. You also raise any concerns you have at the earliest opportunity.

Keep notes of any meetings and conversations you have with your employer about changes to your job, and ideally correspond by email, letter or SMS.

What should I do if my employer refuses to make changes after an accident?

If your employer refuses to make adjustments to your role, and you are therefore unable to return to work, or perform your job safely, you have a number of options available to you.

Make a formal request

If you haven’t already, you could start by making a formal request for changes to your manager or HR representative. It is possible that there has been a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding.

A simple email from you, outlining your needs and the restrictions caused by your injury will help to focus your employer’s mind on the specific changes they need to make, and to take your request seriously.

Escalate the matter

If your direct manager cannot or will not make suitable changes, you may need to formally escalate your case. Your employment contract may set out the process for this, including who you should contact.

Get impartial help and advice

Citizens Advice and ACAS both offer free resources to injured and disabled workers who need help navigating the challenges of working with ill health. A wide range of work-related and injury-specific charities also support injured workers, including:

Contact an employment lawyer

If your employer refuses to make changes, you may need to take formal legal action.

If the demands placed on you by your employer effectively mean you have to quit your job to protect your health, you could have a claim for constructive dismissal.

Even if you are able to continue working, you may still wish to take the matter to an employment tribunal to ensure you get access to the help and support you need at work.

Many local and national law firms offer employment law services, and most will be willing to discuss your case on a free initial call. You can find an employment lawyer through the Law Society's Find a Solicitor tool.

Are workplace adjustments temporary?

It depends. Adjustments should remain in place as long as they are necessary, but you should stay in touch with your employer regarding your recovery progress and update plans as necessary.

You may be able to return to your full, previous role sooner than expected, or you may need more time. By law, your employer is expected to accommodate for as long as it is reasonable to do so.

If you plan to return to your previous, unadjusted role, you should make this clear to your employer at the outset. Depending on how extensive the changes are, your employer may have had to hire additional staff, or make other costly decisions that can’t be rolled back at a moment’s notice.

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Chris Salmon, Director

Author:
Chris Salmon, Director