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Reasonable adjustments in employment

Reasonable adjustments are changes to the work environment that allow people with disability to work safely and productively.  Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, ‘disability’ includes:

  • physical, psychological or neurological disease or disorder
  • illness, whether temporary or permanent 
  • injury, including work-related injuries.

The law protects people who have had a disability in the past and those who may have a disability in the future. For example, someone may have a genetic predisposition to a particular condition.

Find out more about disability discrimination in employment.

What are reasonable adjustments in the workplace?

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for a person with disability who:

  • applies for a job, is offered employment, or is an employee, and
  • requires the adjustments in order to participate in the recruitment process or perform the genuine and reasonable requirements of the job.

Many employees with disability will not need any workplace adjustments. Some may need only minor changes or adjustments to their work hours or the performance requirements of the job, while others may require specific equipment or some structural change to the workplace.

Employers can apply for funding support through the Workplace Modifications Scheme – an Australian Government fund – to help cover the cost of accommodating workers with disability. 

Examples of reasonable adjustments in the workplace

Some adjustments that an employer may need to make to the workplace include:

  • reviewing and, if necessary, adjusting the performance requirements of the job
  • arranging flexibility in work hours
  • providing telephone typewriter (TTY) phone access for employees with hearing or speech impairments
  • purchasing screen reading software for employees with a vision impairment
  • approving more regular breaks for people with chronic pain or fatigue
  • buying desks with adjustable heights for people using a wheelchair.

When are adjustments not reasonable?

When thinking about reasonable adjustments employers need to weigh up the need for change with the expense or effort involved in making it. If making the adjustment means a very high cost or great disruption to the workplace, it is not likely to be reasonable.

In some cases an employer can lawfully decide not to make requested adjustments, if:

  • the adjustments needed are not in fact reasonable (with reference to relevant circumstances), or
  • the person with the disability could not perform the genuine and reasonable requirements of the job even if the adjustments were made.

In addition, an employer will not need to make an adjustment where they can prove that they comply with a Disability Standard made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, or where they have been granted an exemption under that Standard. However, at present there are no final Disability Employment Standards in force.

Similarly, an employer will not need to make an adjustment where the adjustment relates to a physical adjustment to a building, and a determination has been made under s160B of the Building Act 1993 in relation to that building, exempting the building from further modifications being made.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

TheEqual Opportunity Act 2010 includes some generalexceptions. This means that discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances.

There are also specific exceptions in relation to disability in employment.

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