ACAS has published new guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health at work. The non-statutory guidance sets out recommendations and provides examples for employers considering reasonable adjustments for employees experiencing mental ill health.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments
In terms of the Equality Act 2010:
- A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Not everyone will be affected in the same way by mental ill health– one employee with anxiety might be disabled, whereas another will not be.
- There is a duty to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled by (i) an employer’s provision, criterion or practice; or (ii) a physical feature of the workplace.
Although it is not a statutory requirement, ACAS highlights in the guidance that it could also be appropriate to make adjustments for those who are not disabled if their mental ill health is affecting their work.
Examples of reasonable adjustments for mental health
The guidance provides examples of reasonable adjustments for mental ill health, including:
- Making changes to an employee's role and responsibilities, by removing particularly stressful tasks or deadlines or breaking down work into short term tasks for example.
- Reviewing working relationships and communication styles. Some examples given in the guidance include agreeing a preferred communication method and ensuring the employee is dealing with trusted colleagues.
- Changing the employee's physical working environment by, for example, allowing homeworking, providing rest areas / private workspaces / room dividers, or reserved parking to reduce the stress of commuting.
- Making changes to policies such as adjusting absence trigger points, providing paid time off to attend medical appointments or offering an extended phased return to work.
- Providing additional support to employees, by having regular check-ins, providing a dedicated mentor, or providing coaching / training to build confidence in the skills relevant to the employee's role.
Making reasonable adjustments for mental health
The new guidance also suggests how employees and employers might approach making and managing requests for reasonable adjustments for mental ill health. Best practice is for employers and employees to work together to agree a plan - open discussions are key to deciding on and making effective adjustments.
The employer should set up a meeting to discuss the content of any medical advice from occupational health and explore which adjustments the employee thinks would be helpful and how they could work in practice. After the meeting confirm what was agreed in writing and put in place ongoing support and a process to review the adjustments so they remain fit for purpose. Flexibility is particularly important when dealing with mental ill health as adjustments might need to be in place for some time and the needs of the employee can fluctuate.
The guidance highlights that managers should be pro-active and regularly check in with their employees and look out for changes in behaviour. Above all, they should be flexible in their approach and show ongoing support. It is also important that managers know when to seek more information, such as from HR or occupational health.
The guidance stresses the importance of employers taking as much care with mental ill health as they do with physical illnesses. Doing so, the guidance says, can help employees stay in work, reducing absence and recruitment costs, and create a healthier working culture.
If you would like more information or guidance on how to deal with reasonable adjustments, please contact a member of Brodies Employment and Immigration team.
Workbox by Brodies subscribers can access a dedicated Mental Health page for practical guidance on promoting positive mental health at work. There are FAQs on dealing with reasonable adjustments, absences and performance issues, as well as a template mental health and stress at work policy.