Acas recently published new guidance to support employers and employees understand workplace adjustments for mental health. It provides an overview of reasonable adjustments for mental health, how to request adjustments, and how to manage employees working with adjustments.
i. Reasonable adjustments – employer duty
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who suffers from a disadvantage related to their disability. Employers must make reasonable adjustments when:
- They know, or could reasonably be expected to know, someone is disabled and is, or is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to someone who does not have a disability;
- A disabled staff member or job applicant asks for adjustments;
- Someone who’s disabled is having difficulty with any part of their job; and
- Someone’s absence record, sickness record or delay in returning to work is because of, or linked to, their disability.
‘Disability’ is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as a mental or physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. An employer’s obligations to make reasonable adjustments therefore apply equally to employees experiencing mental health conditions and those experiencing physical health conditions.
ii. Acas guidance – a summary
The guidance contains comprehensive practical guidance for both employers and employees. In summary:
- It is important to treat mental health conditions with the same care as physical illness, especially as mental health affects an employee’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing.
- Employers should also try to make reasonable adjustments even if the mental health condition or concern is not a disability as per the definition within the Equality Act 2010.
- Mental health conditions are personal to the individual and adjustments may need to be regularly reviewed and amended in line with the employee’s progress.
- When exploring the potential adjustments, these should be discussed in collaboration with the employer and employee together. Factors to consider should include working arrangements, the physical working environment, adapting role/responsibilities, working relationships and communication.
- Making reasonable adjustments and supportive measures can assist with recruitment, retention and training costs of employees, in addition to potentially reducing absence and increasing productivity.
- For employer/employee meetings to discuss reasonable adjustments, the guidance suggests ways of both preparing and talking about adjustments and wellbeing in an appropriate way that appreciates it can be a difficult topic to talk about. To ensure support is suited to an employee’s ongoing needs, the employer should put in place follow-up meetings to review the effectiveness of the adjustments and make any further changes if necessary.
- The guidance suggests ways to recognise the signs of mental health conditions, and processes to put in place for employees to disclose a mental health condition and receive appropriate support.
- Employers should review and revise their existing policies to ensure they are suitable for employees experiencing mental health conditions. A reasonable adjustments policy is recommended, which covers supporting mental health at work.
iii. Benefits for employers in following the guidance
Although this guidance is not compulsory for employers, the examples and recommendations in it are a useful framework of good practice for Employment Tribunals in assessing both whether an employer has acted reasonably and fairly in the circumstances, and also whether reasonable adjustments have been adequately made or considered. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the employer to follow this guidance.
It is a good idea for all employers to have their own policy that covers reasonable adjustments for mental health to make clear:
- How and when reasonable adjustments for mental health can be accessed;
- How managers can respond and support staff to put reasonable adjustments in place;
- How reasonable adjustments for mental health will be reviewed and monitored; and
- What happens if the reasonable adjustments are not working for the employee or employer.
Finally, employers that engage fully with reasonable adjustments and are committed to the health and wellbeing of their employees are likely to have a more productive and engaged workforce.
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