Offering alternative employment with trial period could be reasonable adjustment

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has confirmed that there is no reason in principle why offering a new role on a trial basis can’t be a reasonable adjustment, if a worker becomes unable to perform their current role because of disability. We have known for many years that the reasonable adjustments duty may extend to offering alternative employment. But until now there has been no clear-cut ruling that employers should consider a trial period if the employee performs poorly in the assessment process normally used for recruit to that role.

This latest decision involved a claimant with multiple sclerosis who was unable to continue working as a pest control technician because of the physical demands of the job. He wanted to transfer to a service administrator role, but did poorly in the written assessment. The employment tribunal decided that it would have been a reasonable adjustment to offer him the job on a trial basis. It thought that there was a reasonable chance he would have been able to perform better than this interview and tests suggested.

The EAT has upheld this decision, pointing out that it doesn’t need to be certain that the adjustment would work. In this case, the employment tribunal considered that there was a 50% chance that the trial would have been successful and that the claimant would have been appointed to the new role permanently, rather than being dismissed on capability grounds.

The EAT’s comments on the role of the employment tribunal in assessing what is reasonable in these circumstances are also worth noting. Although the tribunal needs to take account of the employer’s views, it must conduct an objective assessment of the reasonableness of the proposed adjustment. That means it will not necessarily defer to the employer on the worker’s suitability for the alternative role, even when the claimant has performed poorly in the relevant assessment tests.

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