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.
- One of the areas that can be forgotten is creating a flexible workplace. This benefits all employees, not just those with disabilities.
- A person has epilepsy and the sunlight flashing through the blades of the revolving fan in the office can be dangerous. Moving the desk to another area removes the risk.
- A man with arthritis in his hands finds it hard to fully pull on a plastic extrusion machine in the factory. By putting wider or longer handles on the machine he can keep doing the job with fewer rejections.
- A man has just been employed stacking shelves. His head injury means he can forget what he needs to get from the store. By using his mobile phone to take a photo he can check what he needs against the photo.
- A woman who is deaf is employed to do data entry. Her manager wants to make her feel part of the team, so after meeting with the young woman she arranges for all of the staff to learn some sign language as a joint team activity. She also arranges for a sign language interpreter to be available for the weekly one hour team meeting.
- An office lowers shelves and door handles so that an employee who uses a wheelchair can reach them. All staff are told to keep walkways clear from boxes, bags and bins. In addition to accommodating the employee using a wheelchair, the office generally looks tidier and there is less risk of anyone tripping over things left lying around.
- Before a man who is deaf and blind starts a new job he visits the workplace to find out what is required. He and his employer agree what needs to be done. His employer arranges facilities at the site for his assistance dog; arranges for paperwork to be provided in Braille, trains colleagues to communicate with him and provides disability awareness training to his manager and colleagues. A support worker is also provided through Workbridge(external link).
- A café employs a kitchen hand who has a learning disability. The owner of the café makes sure that he gets information about health and safety and food hygiene in Easy Read which is simple language with pictures and that everything is explained to him in person as well to ensure he understands it. The Easy Read information and explanations also help other workers who don’t speak English as their first language.
Many people need to take medication at work to help them manage a medical condition, (eg heart conditions, diabetes, asthma). Most people can manage their medication needs independently, but sometimes help may be needed. Many people receive medical treatment each year due to adverse reactions to medication. It is critical that medications are managed appropriately at work. Possible reactions to medication in the workplace may be due to:
- changed method of medication eg taking as a whole tablet (not crushed or chewed)
- not taking medication at correct times during the day
- not taking medication in the recommended way, eg with food or on an empty stomach
- taking incorrect dosages of medication.
If an employee is unsure of correct dosages or have any questions or concerns about their medication, they should consult their doctor. It is good practice for employers to keep its employees’ doctors contact details on file for for emergencies (but employees don’t have to supply this information).
Examples of reasonable medication accommodations
If an employee needs to take medication while at work, an employer can help them manage this successfully if they need help. For example, if an employee finds it hard to remember:
- medication dosage instructions; put these in writing in either in a clothing pocket or at the workstation
- to take medication; if they are sitting at a computer, organise reminder messages to appear on the screen at the time medications are due. If they have an alarm watch or mobile phone, or works near someone who does, set its alarm, or use pill boxes with alarms
- how much, when and which medication to take; use a pill dispensing container to organise medications.
Awareness of possible side effects from medication
It is important that people, eg a person's supervisor and/or colleague are aware of possible side effects from medication so they can help the person if they need to. The following may be helpful:
- have a copy of the consumer medicine information leaflet for each medication. These outline what it is for, how to use it, possible side effects and what to do if they occur
- if sleepiness is a possible side effect of medication, it is usually recommended not to operate machinery or vehicles, for safety reasons
- people who take medication can keep a list of medications they are taking in their purse or wallet, including possible side effects and what to do if they occur.
Adapt work routines to accommodate medication needs
- Schedule break times to coincide with medicating times.
- Some modifications to work routine and task order may be needed to manage a condition or medication. People with respiratory disorders may get exhausted if not given adequate rest times or chance to rotate between more and less physically demanding jobs.
Providing physical accomodation
- Safe, secure storage space for medication, away from heat, damp and light which can damage medications. A fridge may be needed for some medications.
- Provision of a private space to take medication correctly.
- Sufficient workspace may need to be given to people needing oxygen equipmen.
If an employee has a mental health disability, ask them what reasonable accommodations may be needed. Some examples of things which may help include:
- let the employee wear headphones with soothing music, ear protectors to screen out noise, or install a partition
- break down large jobs into smaller ones
- allow shorter but more frequent breaks
- allow the person to work around and get fresh air
- give the person one job at a time and write down instructions
- offer flexible or shorter hours, rest breaks during the day or job sharing
- allow the person to attend medical and other appointments
- meet regularly to discuss progress and prioritise tasks and estimate completion times
- with the person’s consent, brief colleagues about the person’s needs and organise a mentor or buddy in the workplace
- provide regular chances for feedback
- give plenty of notice of planned changes, with clear and full explanations of the change and reasons for it.
- make sure the person has the chance to be included in all activities.