Our client has an employee who has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and is concerned about the cost of making reasonable adjustments. Can they refuse to make adjustments because it would cost too much?
As our client is probably already aware, multiple sclerosis is one of a select few impairments that is automatically considered to be a disability from the moment of diagnosis. This means that the employee is entitled to receive full rights and protections under the Equality Act 2010 even where the usual definition of ‘disability’ is not met.
The Act states that your client has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace in order to remove any barriers caused by the employee’s disability, which could include amending work duties or making alterations to the working environment. When considering multiple sclerosis, individuals often benefit from equipment such as specialised desk chairs or removing any duties that require strenuous physical activity.
Given the above, your client’s concern over cost is understandable as new equipment will have to be factored into pre-existing budgets and additional staff may need to be hired to cover any duties that the employee can no longer undertake. As a result, your client may be able to refrain from making any adjustments, providing they can demonstrate it wouldn’t be reasonable to do so.
When determining ‘reasonableness’ the Employment Code of Practice, produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, states that the size of the organisation plays a major role. The same applies to the amount of resources available to an organisation and the overall cost of any adjustment. This means smaller organisations with limited financial resources may be able to lawfully avoid making an adjustment if doing so would come at a significant cost.
Having said this, your client should not rely on cost as a defence when refusing to make an adjustment that would qualify as reasonable as this could result in potentially expensive discrimination claims. In fact, a recent study by ‘Inclusive Boards’ found that the average cost of making a reasonable adjustment is as little as £75, which suggests there will be a number of solutions to assist the employee that do not create a significant financial detriment for your client.
It should also be noted that your client may be able to request financial assistance towards reasonable adjustments through the government’s Access to Work programme. This will also play a significant role in assessing reasonableness, therefore your client should explore the potential for financial assistance when considering what adjustments can be made.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that in
most cases reasonable adjustments will not come at a significant cost, meaning
it will be difficult to justify refusing adjustments on this basis. Therefore,
before making any rash decisions your client should sit down with the
individual in question to understand what adjustments they require at work and
consider how best to implement these.
 Reproduced with permission of Croner taxwise