ACAS guidance gives advice to employers on how to manage requests for reasonable adjustments for employees suffering with mental health conditions, under the Equality Act 2010. Natalie Wood, solicitor in the employment team, discusses the guidance and what benefits it gives employers.
Equality Act 2010
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled employee is placed at a substantial disadvantage by an employer’s provision, criterion or practice, or a physical feature of the workplace, compared to an employee that is not disabled.
Both physical and mental impairments can amount to a disability, providing that the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
It is important for employers to remember that often there is no one size fits all approach, and whilst one employee with a particular impairment might amount to a disability – another employee with a similar (or even the same) impairment might not. What is particularly important, is the duration of, or anticipated duration, of the impairment and the impact that that impairment has on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
To make appropriate ‘reasonable’ adjustments, employers need to understand the specific impairment the employee suffers with and the impact of their impairment at work. To best facilitate that, employers should meet with employees to explore what adjustments they might find helpful. Employers should also refer employees to occupational health or other relevant specialists at the earliest opportunity to understand what adjustments they recommend, and to discuss these with the employee.
Often, individuals suffering with mental health conditions do not know what they need from their employers to best manage their mental health, or might not feel comfortable putting forward ideas of adjustments. Employers need to ensure that they take an open, flexible approach and regularly monitor and review what adjustments are in place, what adjustments work and what further adjustments might be needed.
ACAS (in guidance published earlier this year) have provided some examples of particular adjustments that employers might want to consider for employees suffering with mental health conditions, which include:
Reviewing working relationships and communication styles to help reduce anxiety, such as agreeing set times in the day for any phone calls.
Changing the physical working environment, such as by providing rest areas away from main, busy staff areas. Other changes could include relocating an individual to a quieter workspace to reduce sensory demands and allowing them to work from home to manage distractions or engage in activities that allow them time and space to manage their mental health.
Changing someone’s roles and responsibilities, which might include reviewing deadlines to help manage their workload and/or breaking down work into short term tasks to provide structure to the working day. ACAS also suggests reviewing their responsibilities to reduce those that are more stressful, and considering moving them into a different role or department if their current job is negatively impacting their mental health.
Reasonable adjustments should be considered and applied on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the particular impairment and impact of that impairment faced by the employee.
Managers are often those that are approached by employees about health concerns and reasonable adjustments. Managers are often at the forefront of discussions around determining what adjustments should be made. It is therefore important that managers are suitably trained to understand how they can support someone with a mental health condition, what reasonable adjustments might mean and what the risks are under the Equality Act 2010. It is also important that managers are sufficiently trained to recognise changes in behaviour, check in with employees to see how they are doing and to be flexible in their approach and show ongoing support.
Want to find out more?
For help and support on a long-term sickness issue affecting one of your employees, to discuss reasonable adjustments and what this means, or if you are looking for training and awareness courses for managers and HR on disability discrimination and reasonable adjustments, then get in touch today with our Employment team on [email protected].
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.