Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments at work for employees that are disabled, with the purpose of removing or reducing disadvantages related to that disability.
A disability is defined under the Equality Act as an impairment that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day to day activities, and includes both physical and mental health conditions.
Acas has recently launched new guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health at work, with the aim of supporting both employers and employees in handling this together. The guidance includes considerations for employers to be aware of, as well as practical steps that can be taken to ensure employees with mental health conditions are adequately supported at work.
Employers should ensure that they treat mental health problems as seriously as they would physical disabilities. It is important to remember that mental health problems might be difficult to spot, because conditions can present differently amongst different individuals, and further, some employees might not feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work.
However, this does not mean that supporting those with mental health problems should be forgotten. There are many benefits for both employees and employers in making suitable reasonable adjustments for mental health at work. Firstly, employees should be able to feel safe and well supported. A healthy work culture is a necessity, and will in turn lead to greater productivity amongst a team. In addition, making reasonable adjustments is likely to lead to a reduction in staff absence, and therefore associated costs, and will have an impact on staff retention and recruitment.
The Acas mental health guidelines set out some examples of reasonable adjustments that could be made for someone’s mental health at work. Whilst there are some very helpful suggestions, it is important for employers to recognise that what helps one person might not help another, and so conversations should be had with each employee to recognise how they would like their tailored support to look.
Adjustments could be related to someone’s physical environment, working arrangements or, perhaps, additional equipment or support. For example, it might include:
• reviewing tasks and deadlines to help someone to have a reasonable workload
• relocating someone’s workspace to a quieter area; or
• offering extended phased returns to work to someone who has been absent, so that they can build up hours gradually.
If an employee is finding that their current role is having a negative impact on their mental health, it could be considered whether this employee could be moved to a different role or department.
Employees should speak with their manager or employer if they want to request any reasonable adjustments for their mental health. This way, employers and employees can work together to establish what could be done. Whilst adjustments have to be made by employers, these must be reasonable, bearing in mind the size of the organisation , what resources are available, and any associated costs.
It could be helpful for employees to consider getting advice from an occupational health professional, who could assist with suggestions as to what adjustments might be suitable.
Employers might also find that they want to seek legal advice before having conversations with the employee, after they have taken a look at their policies and resources in considering how they could provide the support requested.
The Acas mental health guidance also suggests having a ‘trial period’ when adjustments are first put in place. Adaptions might need to be made following an initial trial period to ensure they are effective as possible. Adjustments should also be reviewed on an ongoing basis, as whilst mental health conditions can improve, they are often long term conditions that individuals learn to alleviate over time. It could be useful to have follow up meetings between employer and employee to discuss how adjustments are working, and whether it is considered that any changes will be needed.
If employers do not cooperate with the duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, this is unlawful discrimination, which can give rise to compensation awarded for injury to feelings and loss of earnings.
Even if an employee does not have a disability (perhaps, it is not likely to be long term), employers should still try to make reasonable adjustments where possible. Simple changes to a person’s working arrangements or responsibilities could make a big difference at an early stage.