Reasonable adjustments – Hybrid and home working
Published: June 13 2022
With hybrid working here to stay, we look at how to identify and consider any adjustments that could be made to your hybrid working policy to ensure HR best practice and inclusivity amongst your staff.
The increase of home working and hybrid working can bring its own challenges, with one of these being a widely reported increase in mental health struggles in the UK. Indeed, mental health charity Mind has reported that one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
This needs to be taken into consideration when designing your hybrid working model. A key area to address should be the potential lack of social interaction if more employees take up working from home. As such, your HR and management teams should be mindful of how hybrid working models could impact this aspect of employees’ mental health, and address it accordingly.
With the increase in flexible and home working, your organisation may be considering a change in offices in order to downsize. If you are planning to do this, this would be a good opportunity to choose a workspace which has increased accessibility for those with disabilities.
The dramatic shift in the sphere of work to allow more hybrid and home working options has removed a barrier to work for many disabled people. However, it is important that we don’t just remove one barrier to put up another.
Recent research has identified incidences of proximity bias, where those who work on a remote basis have been passed over for promotion.
Now, more than ever, it is important to consider how unconscious bias (in all forms) is addressed, but in particular if embedding a permanent hybrid working structure within your organisation.
While the topic of proximity bias is much broader than can be summarised briefly in this article. Also see below a couple of suggested tips you may wish to consider:
- Make sure you are aware that unconscious bias exists in many forms in the workplace environment
- Consider focusing on measurable KPIs and targets in your decision making
- Implement processes which encourage regular feedback from employees
Reasonable adjustments to support employees with disabilities
Acas defines a workplace reasonable adjustment as a change to remove or reduce the disadvantages faced by disabled employees so they may do their job. Acas use an example of an employer changing hours if an employee has a diagnosis that can mean they are fatigued at certain times of day.
There are several ways that you may be able to make reasonable adjustments to your policies, which we have outlined below.
Since COVID, many organisations have implemented new working practises which designate a set amount of time that employees must be in the office. Some also determine set days that employees must work from the office.
Where a role allows for hybrid working, adjustments can be made to allow those with disabilities to spend a reduced amount of time in the office or be more flexible with which days they need to spend there.
This could also be reviewed if it is possible to not mandate any time required on site, giving the employee more flexibility.
You can also review whether a role which normally does not allow for home working can be, with extra planning and coordination, managed as a hybrid role.
Some disabilities may cause challenges when travelling at peak times. These difficulties could be faced for example, by those who have mobility issues, or those who suffer from anxiety.
To support this, it may be possible for you to adjust such employees’ working hours so they start and finish outside the peak commuting hours, or they could be allowed flexitime with agreed core hours.
For those suffering with fatigue, a shortened day could be taken into consideration where possible.
All changes could be agreed on a temporary or permanent basis.
If your company has several sites, consideration could be given to the possibility for employees to work out of another site that is closer to their home, or is more accessible.
This could also help reduce isolation and proximity bias giving employees the opportunity to go to a workplace when they may otherwise be unable to.
Where physical adaptations are made in the office you could in some cases provide the same equipment for the person at home, such as an ergonomic chair.
Particularly with the increase in businesses downsizing, many companies are making a move to permanent hot-desking. You should be mindful that this could have the potential to lead to unfair treatment where adjustments and provisions are made for an individual. Due to sharing workspaces, adjustments could then be altered by others, meaning the person would need to readjust the equipment every time it is altered.
An example of this can be seen in the Baker v House of Commons Commission. In this case, an employment tribunal ruled that a House of Commons employee was treated unfavourably and discriminated against after asking colleagues not to use her desk that had been adapted to her health needs.
To address this, where possible, permanent desks could be given to those where specific adjustments are required.
It is worth noting that the Code of Practice which accompanies the Equality Act explicitly states that excluding workers with a social anxiety disorder from hot desking is a reasonable adjustment.
As hot desking is often based on a first-come first-served basis, you may wish to implement a booking system with specific provisions in place. A booking system could help avoid issues with the first-come first-served system for those with morning childcare or other pre-work responsibilities which mean they arrive later.
You may also want to consider placing provisions on desks in certain locations. For example those closest to the toilets, which may be needed for those with IBS or those who are pregnant, or those closest to the windows for those experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Participation and communication
When an employee starts it may be reasonable than if an adjustment has been made to include hybrid or home working, they may also need extra time spent on training and more regular catch ups. This should be reflected in any probationary reviews and taken into consideration when creating targets and reflecting on progress made.
Since the pandemic dictated that everything that could be moved to virtual was moved to virtual, the landscape of the formal meeting has changed. Prior to COVID, formal meetings were seen as something that occurred in person, with virtual options often not discussed. There are both advantages and disadvantages to holding meetings virtually and they need to be considered carefully when arranging formal meetings, especially when the meeting may be sensitive in nature.
Hayes v Rendall Rittner Ltd earlier this year found the company had not made a reasonable adjustment by allowing a disciplinary hearing to be conducted by phone rather than via Microsoft Teams. The tribunal held that this adjustment would have been ‘simple, inexpensive and timely’.
For people unable to travel to the office due to a disability, you should also give consideration to the impact of them missing important social events and in-person opportunities as a result.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced a helpful Event Planning Guide with a checklist of things to consider when planning an activity involving those with disabilities, which you may wish to refer to.
For support on the issues covered in this article, including addressing flexible and hybrid working requests, training, or dealing with reasonable adjustments, Kent HR can guide you and help prepare any communications.
You can also read further guidance in our article, how to plan for successful hybrid working, if you are looking to introduce hybrid working to your organisation.
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