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Curtin University
People and Culture

Making Reasonable Adjustments in the Workplace

Making changes to a workplace to ensure equal opportunity for people with disability is commonly referred to as “reasonable adjustment” or “reasonable accommodation”. Reasonable adjustments made in the workplace, remove barriers for people with disability, enabling a staff member to work effectively and participate equally in the workplace1. All employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

There are no checklists of reasonable adjustments in the workplace. Each individual case needs to be considered in its own circumstances and its own merits. The Disability Discrimination Act states that adjustment in the workplace which would involve changing the inherent requirements of the job is not required, i.e. an employer is not required to employ, or continue to employ, a person who cannot fulfill the inherent requirements of the position. There are also limits to the adjustments an employer is required to make. Adjustments are not required when they would impose an unjustifiable hardship. 

Examples of reasonable workplace accommodation; 

Example 1:
George is a person with a vision impairment and works at Curtin University. George was in the process of obtaining a guide dog called Stella, and required 4 weeks leave in order to train / orientate Stella. The University considered that 4 weeks of paid leave being provided to George was reasonable accommodation, and could be regarded similarly to undertaking the orientation of a colleague, or training of an employee in technical skills to facilitate their performance. The University also considered that as guide dogs have a working life of 8 to 10 years, the four week period of training would not be an unreasonable period for the University to accommodate. 

Example 2:
Rebecca is employed by the University as a Lecturer, and was experiencing some difficulty in performing her work as a result of her disability. Rebecca uses a wheelchair and has limited hand function. She advised that due to her limited hand function, she was unable to type quickly, and due to muscle fatigue in her hand was making many mistakes while typing. Rebecca advised that she also was experiencing difficulty in getting her wheelchair to fit underneath her desk. 
She alerted her line manager, who promptly made contact with the Staff Disability Advisor for assistance. The Staff Disability Advisor met with both Rebecca and the supervisor to gain a detailed understanding of Rebecca’s concerns. Based upon this detailed information and medical recommendations, Rebecca was provided with voice recognition software that improved the accuracy of reports. Rebecca was also provided with an electronic desk that allowed her to adjust the level of the desk according to her requirement. The accommodations that were provided to Rebecca allowed her to maintain her productivity and contribute equally to her work area.

In the view of the Australian Human Rights Commission reasonable adjustments do not include;

  • changing the inherent requirements of the job concerned;
  • maintaining a job which would otherwise be altered or abolished;
  • assigning performance of some inherent requirements to another employee;
  • creation of a different job; or
  • promotion or transfer to a different job (except as part of a program of training or rehabilitation reasonably likely to enable the person to perform the requirements of the job concerned within a reasonable period).

Unjustifiable Hardship

Unjustifiable hardship may be simply described as creating significant difficulties or expense to an employer. The factors that constitute unjustifiable hardship to an employer are wide and varied. The Human Rights Commission website  provides detailed examples of unjustifiable hardship to employers. Some examples of factors that may be utilised to determine unjustifiable hardship are listed below:

  • Relevant skills, abilities and experience of the person seeking adjustments;
  • Size of employer;
  • Effect of adjustments on colleagues, visitors, customers, clients;
  • Workforce planning needs;
  • Health and safety considerations in making the adjustments;
  • Financial costs (direct and indirect) (assessed within the overall budget context for the organisation;
  • Down time or interruption to productivity involved in making the adjustment; or
  • Adjustments having an affect on competitiveness of the organisation

When considering whether an adjustment will cause unjustifiable hardship to an employer such as a University, it is useful to know that the decision of undue hardship could be determined on the overall financial resources of the university, rather than the budget of a particular area.  It is important that where a cost may be assessed as creating unjustifiable hardship in the context of a School/Area budget, this is notified to the Faculty/Office level so that this can be assessed at Faculty/Office or University level.  The Staff Disability Advisor can also be contacted for assistance.

 

1 http://www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/faq/Employment/employment_faq_1.html#adjustment

© Curtin University of Technology. Except as permitted by the Copyright Act 1968, this material may not be reproduced, stored or transmitted without the permission of the copyright owner. All enquiries must be directed to the  Curtin Staff Disability Advisor ext 9090. This material does not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  Except to the extent mandated otherwise by legislation, Curtin University does not accept responsibility for the consequences of any reliance which may be placed on this material by any person.