Skip to content

Advice on Disabled Employees for SMEs

Following the shock (for some) Brexit vote economists are warning that many businesses are likely to fold in the coming months as they struggle to make sense of the economic uncertainty we face and are likely to be stuck with for quite some time to come.  With SMEs comprising a whopping 99% of British businesses, these smaller companies are likely to bear the brunt of the financial chaos.  We’ve already pointed out just how important a steady cash flow can be, particularly for these smaller companies that operate on a low budget.  Any business owner who employs a workforce, no matter how small, will know that one of their largest expenditures will be on staffing.  Employers have a legal obligation to ensure that staff are provided with a healthy and safe working environment and nowadays, there is a legal requirement to treat disabled individuals in the same manner as their non-disabled colleagues.  Any employer will need to work with the employee to remove any disadvantages that their disability may create.  

This duty of care does not just apply to employees, but also to trainees, apprentices and even job applicants.  An employer will need to consider making adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 and the expenses involved may seem prohibitive for a small business owner.  However, the duty to make adjustments does arise if a disabled employee is placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to other non-disabled colleagues.  

Reasonable adjustments can take one of three forms:

  • Changing the physical surroundings, such as installing facilities for disabled employees (this could be elevators, desks, seating, etc.).
  • Changing the way things are done in the workplace – such as changing or adapting policies, procedures and even rules in some cases.
  • Providing aids, such as computer software designed to help those with dyslexia.

Many of the adjustments required are unlikely to be particularly expensive for you as an employer and you are not required to do more than what is reasonable for you to do.  What is classed as “reasonable” for you to do will depend, among other factors, on the size and the nature of your business organisation.  The cost of an adjustment can be considered when deciding if it is a reasonable adjustment or not.  

However, Access to Work is a government scheme which has been designed to help a person whose health or disability affects their work by providing them with help and support.  Access to Work may be able to help with extra expenses which would not be reasonable for the employer or prospective employer to pay.  For example, Access to Work may pay towards the cost of getting to and from work if the disabled person is unable to use public transport, or provide assistance with communication during job interviews.  As an employer you need to ensure that your employees are aware of the Access to Work scheme so that they can take advantage of it if necessary.

As an employer, don’t be tempted to just do nothing about providing adjustments for disabled employees or you could find yourself faced with complaints that may lead to legal action against your business.  In these cases, it can be very difficult for a small company to weather the legal costs and fines involved and your business may face insolvency as a result.