An employer has to take reasonable measures, ie provide services and facilities where this is reasonable, to meet an employee’s needs under the Human Rights Act 1993. This can also be described as making reasonable accommodation.
People with disability are employed across many occupations and like anyone else, they prefer work they are naturally suited to and good at. Some disabilities affect a person’s abilities to perform a particular job, but for most any issues may be overcome by a responsible manager working with the employee or job applicant, eg changing the hours of work slightly is the most common form of reasonable measure.
Employers should consider taking reasonable measures to help the job fit the worker and should seek advice if necessary. But first they should talk freely and directly with their employee (or prospective employee) to find out how best to match the person’s abilities to the job for maximum productivity and job satisfaction.
What reasonable accommodation means
Reasonable accommodation is the term used to describe creating an environment intended to ensure equality of opportunity to meet:
- the particular practices of an employee’s religious or ethical beliefs
- the employee’s needs in relation to family commitments
- the employee’s needs in relation to a disability.
Making reasonable accommodation enables you to confidently recruit, retain and support disabled people within your organisation. In the case of disability, making reasonable accommodation:
- means making modifications or changes eg enabling a job applicant with a disability participate on a more equal basis in a workplace;
- can involve physical measures eg improving access to a building; or
- can mean modifying the way a job is done, eg by giving some parts of the job to another employee
- does not require changes that would unreasonably disrupt an employer’s activities
- makes sure the job or the workplace is better suited to the employee who has a disability.
For more information on reasonable accommodation see the Human Rights Commission publication focussing on disabilities (external link)
Employers should view this as a positive aspect to hiring a person with a disability: any changes that might be required are often at minimal or at no cost, or there may be support or funding available. Once the changes have been made, the workplace is often better placed to do more business, more efficiently, in the future. This in turn boosts the organisation’s disability confidence, competitiveness and inclusiveness of customers and employees.
There might be some things that can be done immediately for little cost, eg rearranging furniture to allow enough room for people in wheelchairs to move through freely or installing a ramp to access premises. A range of workplace adjustment tools are available to improve access to premises. You can discuss ideas with experts, (eg at Workbridge), and use this information as a starting point for discussion with employees. JobAccess (external link) has examples of solutions to accessibility barriers that arise.
For modifications that are longer term or more complex, it’s a good idea to plan and document your approach.
A Disability Action Plan is a way for an organisation to plan the removal, as far as possible, of discrimination against people with disability. An action plan identifies ways that you can ensure that your premises, goods, services and facilities are accessible and non-discriminatory to people with disability. Click here for an Australian website to learn how to create a Disability Action Plan (external link) .
What accommodations are reasonable
You only have to make accommodations that are reasonable. Factors taken into account when considering what is reasonable are:
- the effectiveness of the accommodation in helping the employee with disability to perform their job
- whether it is practical to put in place the accommodation
- the financial or other costs of the accommodation
- the extent of available resources, including the organisation’s
- how much disruption, if any, will be caused to your organisation or other people
- whether you can get help with the accommodation and its cost eg a modification grant
- the nature and size of your organisation.
General reasonable accommodation
In some circumstances, it will be appropriate to make changes as a general response to the needs of all disabled people. For example, providing your employees with disability awareness training or when redesigning your website, taking accessibility into account. The advantages of looking at inclusive opportunities include:
- helping you think of measures that will help many people, including those with disabilities
- saving money on retrofitting
- enhancing your reputation as a disability-friendly and proactive organisation
- ensuring consideration of disability becomes part of your 'business as usual'.
Specific reasonable accommodation
Sometimes, you will need to take account of individual needs and make specific changes. Don’t make assumptions about what reasonable accommodations someone needs, always ask them, rather than trying to guess their circumstances and requirements or think you know best. Best practice is to build the question of reasonable measures into your recruitment practices and usual line management processes.
Most reasonable accommodations don't cost anything but may need a change in attitude or approach. If putting in place a reasonable accommodation does cost money, a modification grant (external link) may be able to help.