Mental health is constantly in the headlines, and employers are increasingly aware of the importance of protecting and supporting employees’ mental health in the workplace, and the impact this can have on wellbeing, productivity and retention.
Guidance published by ACAS last month (April 2023) offers a welcome overview of how employers can support their employees by making adjustments for mental health.
Whilst the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees is a well-established area of law, the new ACAS guidance provides helpful guidance to employers on how to handle mental health related adjustments specifically.
Legal duty to make reasonable adjustments
Employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a disabled person’s needs, pursuant to the Equality Act. The definition of “disability” in the Equality Act is a mental or physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage by a provision, criterion or practice imposed by the employer, or by a physical feature of the employer’s premises, the employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to avoid that disadvantage.
Employers’ obligations to make reasonable adjustments applies equally to employees experiencing mental health conditions as to those with a physical disability.
Making reasonable adjustments for mental health
The ACAS guidance sets out some useful recommendations, setting out practical adjustments that employers might put in place for those with mental health conditions, and how to respond to a request for reasonable adjustments.
Mental health encompasses the emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing of an individual. The new ACAS guidance recognises that problems with mental health can be brought on by a specific life event or built up gradually over time and mental health issues may be consistent or fluctuating. It is therefore important for employers to recognise that what works in one situation for one employee at one point in time, may not work for another employee at another point in time.
The suggested practical adjustments that employers might put in place for those with mental health conditions include:
- Changing role and responsibilities.
- Agreeing preferred communication methods to reduce anxiety.
- Changing the physical work environment if necessary eg to reduce sensory demands.
The guidance emphasises that the employer should explore with the employee potential desirable adjustments. Managers are central in supporting those with mental health conditions. Discussions around mental health are always difficult for both the employee and their line manager, and the guidance proposes some helpful ways to talk about adjustments and wellbeing.
Finally, the guidance encourages employers to review relevant policies (such as absence policies) to make sure that they are suitable for employees with mental health problems. Indeed, the guidance recommends that employers have a reasonable adjustments policy covering supporting mental health at work.
Whilst this new ACAS guidance does not have the force of law, it will serve as a usual benchmark of good practice for Tribunals in assessing whether an employer has acted reasonably and fairly and whether reasonable adjustments have been properly considered.
If you wish to discuss this further, or if you have any other employment law enquiries, please contact Rebecca Ellerbeck of Rowberrys on 01344 959166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.