Reasonable adjustments in the workplace

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If you need modifications or adjustments to your workplace to accommodate your disability so you can work at your best, you can ask your employer to make changes around your office and general work area.

Key points 

  • Employers can make adjustments to the workplace to remove barriers experienced by someone living with disability
  • The types of adjustments made will depend on the type of disability you live with and the support you need
  • Organisations like JobAccess can provide funding to help cover some of the costs of reasonable adjustments

What is a reasonable adjustment in the workplace?

You are able to request workplace modifications or reasonable adjustments to assist with your day to day tasks at work.

Under The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), written by the Australian Human Rights Commission, employers are required by law to make these changes to the workplace.

If an employer does not make an effort to make these adjustments, it may be considered discrimination against someone living with disability.

However, in some cases, they may not be required to make an adjustment – if the employer is able to prove that the adjustment is unreasonable, it would be too expensive, difficult or time-consuming or that it would cause them ‘unjustifiable hardship’.

Examples of workplace adjustments

The types of adjustments needed will depend on the type of disability you live with and the type of support you are looking for.

Workplace adjustments include:

  • Access to assistive technology, including screen readers and magnifiers, speech to text applications, or devices that will help you perform your duties
  • Information in accessible formats, such as audio files, larger print or braille
  • Additional workplace equipment and facilities such as ramps and adapted office furniture or equipment
  • Access to Auslan interpreters
  • Access to on-the-job training, mentoring, supervision or support
  • More flexible work arrangements. For example, the ability to work from home, work part-time, change your start and finish times, or have longer or more frequent breaks. You could also request time off during working hours for any medical, rehabilitation, psychological or other appointments related to your disability or mental health condition
  • Being allowed extra time to complete jobs, projects or tasks
  • Permission to use a portable CD player, MP3 player or phone with headphones as a tool for minimising distractions and noise to help increase concentration
  • Being able to use pictures and prompts in a workspace to help with remembering daily work tasks and processes
  • Partitioned area or private office to reduce noise or distractions

Read more about when to request workplace adjustments during the recruitment process in our article, ‘If and when to share details about your disability at work or during your job search‘.

How to request a workplace adjustment

When it comes to requesting a workplace modification or adjustment, the best way to do it is in writing, like sending a letter attached in an email. This way you and your employer both have a copy of the document.

Before you submit your request you can have a look to see if there are any local organisations or charities that could help you put together a request, such as Disability Employment Services or Australian Disability Enterprises.

If you’re part of a union then you could even have a chat with them to see what changes have been made for others with the same disability in your field of employment.

Your request should explain your situation to your employer. In some cases you may also need to explain their obligations under the law if they are, for example, a small business or they do not have a Human Resources department.

Your letter should state what you are asking for, whether that’s a change to a rule or way of doing things, a change to building facilities, or a request for extra equipment or support.

Include a request for your employer to consider the adjustments, and to either let you know their response in writing or arrange a time for a meeting with you to discuss your request.  Include a timeframe for response, for example, 7 to 14 days, and then you can follow up with them if you have not received a response.

Keep a record of what you discuss with your employer, if you speak to them verbally about your request, and their response. This way, if they do not provide adjustments by an agreed date, you are able to follow up with them.

In summary, your letter should include:

  • Information about your condition and what’s causing you issues at work
  • How the problems you’re experiencing could be addressed, also include any solutions you can think of
  • If you have already spoken to your employer but changes have not been made
  • If you need the adjustments to be made urgently

If you have spoken to your employer and you are not satisfied with their refusal or they have not made the adjustments you need then you are able to contact FairWork.

The Fair Work Commission can hold a meeting with you and your employer to talk through any issues and try to find a solution.

What are unreasonable adjustments?

If an employer is aware of an employee’s disability, legally they must provide reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of an employee.

Adjustments need to be made unless an employer can prove that the adjustment would cause ‘unjustifiable hardship’.

Unjustifiable hardship is more than an inconvenience or a minor expense. It relates to severe financial hardship, technical limitations or, in some cases, building heritage considerations.

For more information on unjustifiable hardship, you can visit the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

Where can I get funding for workplace adjustments?

Your employer is responsible for the costs of any reasonable adjustments. However, there are schemes available to help with the costs of these adjustments.

One of these schemes is the JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund (EAF), which is available to eligible people living with disability who are about to start a job, are self-employed or who are currently working.

The EAF provides funding to cover the costs of making workplace changes including buying equipment, modifications or accessing services for people with disability. It is also available to people who need Auslan assistance or special work equipment to look for and prepare for a job.

You or your employer can submit an application for the EAF.

Free workplace assessments are also available through the EAF to help with figuring out what kind of supports someone may need. This is called a Workplace Modification Assessment (WMS).

The Assessor will look at your workplace and any barriers that may exist, and talk with you and your employer to find solutions to make your workplace more flexible and accessible.

For more information on the EAF and how to submit an application, visit the JobAccess website or free call 1800 464 800 to speak to a JobAccess Adviser.

What more do you want to know about employment and living with disability? Tell us in the comment section below.

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