In April 2023, Acas released some new guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health at work which you can access here.

The guidance is specific to mental health and contains very useful examples of reasonable adjustments and includes advice for both employees and employers.

The Legal Bit

The Equality Act places a legal duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled employees, job applicants and former employees.

The duty can also extend to contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work.

The duty can arise where a disabled person is placed at a  substantial disadvantage by an employer’s provision, criterion or practice (PCP), a physical feature of the employer’s premises, or an employer’s failure to provide an auxiliary aid.

However, an employer will only be obliged to make reasonable adjustments where it knows or ought reasonably to know that the person is disabled and is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability.

Under the Equality Act 2010, you have a disability if you have:

a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

Given the benefits of make reasonable adjustments, employers should try to make reasonable adjustments even if the issue is not a disability. Adjustments may help to keep an employee well enough to stay in work or reduce sickness absence.

Reasonable Adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes that an employer can make to remove or reduce the substantial disadvantage related to someone’s disability.

The appropriate reasonable adjustments will always be person and fact-specific, whether that person suffers from a physical or mental disability.

The adjustment should be reasonable, practical, affordable and not cause harm to the health and safety of others. When assessing whether an adjustment is reasonable, the size and resources of the employer (among other things) would be taken into account.

Mental Health

Reasonable adjustments may be easier to recognise and implement in cases of physical disabilities, for example a person in a wheelchair may require a ramp or accessibility assistance in the workplace. However, for mental health conditions it is often not as obvious what adjustments are required in each situation.

Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social wellbeing and the effect can vary from person to person in severity and often changes over time.

It is important for an employer to support staff with mental health conditions in the same way they would support staff with a physical disability.

In the new guidance, Acas highlight the benefits of implementing reasonable adjustments for existing staff such as a reduction in the need for recruitment costs – if existing staff can be supported and retained, this is more cost effective in the long term. It also reduces absence disruption and costs, having a positive impact on the whole workplace – promoting a healthy and open working environment.

The Acas Guidance

The new guidance includes an overview of the following:

  • the benefits of making reasonable adjustments;
  • examples of reasonable adjustments;
  • best practice for requesting reasonable adjustments;
  • advice for how an employer can respond to such requests;
  • ongoing review and management; and
  • policy advice.

Examples

Some helpful examples of reasonable adjustments are listed below which will give an idea of the types of adjustments that could be considered.

Changes to someone’s role and responsibilities:

  • review tasks and deadlines;
  • break down workload into short term tasks to reduce complexity of work and provide structure to the day;
  • review someone’s responsibilities to reduce those that are most stressful, e.g., reduce phone calls or customer facing work;
  • move someone to a different department or role.

Reviewing working relationships and communication styles:

  • make sure they work with trusted people to limit the impact of different working and communication styles;
  • agree a preferred communication method, e.g., agreeing emails to avoid anxiety inducing spontaneous calls.

Changes to the physical environment:

  • allow home working;
  • relocate a workspace to a quiet area;
  • provide rest areas away from the main staff area;
  • provide reserved parking to reduce commute stressors.

Policy changes:

  • offering paid time off to attend appointments;
  • be flexible with “trigger points” in an absence management policy;
  • offer an extended phased return after a period of absence.

Additional support:

  • modify supervision to provide regular check ins, prioritising work & creating structure;
  • provide training or coaching to build confidence in skills relevant to the job;
  • provide a buddy or mentor to be a dedicated person to support.

If an employee works some of their time at home, also consider if the same or any different adjustments need to be considered for home working.

In Practice

The new guidance also provides some good advice for those requesting reasonable adjustments and how employers should best respond to requests.

A meeting is usually recommended to discuss the requirements. Ahead of a meeting, the employee should think about or note down how their mental health affects them at work; how work affects their mental health; they could talk to a friend or family member about how they are feeling and look at examples of reasonable adjustments that may be relevant to their condition(s).

Employers should also prepare for the meeting and have a look at examples of reasonable adjustments. Once agreed, any adjustments should be confirmed  in writing. It is recommended to implement a trial period to monitor the adjustments to ensure they are working well and as intended, then make further changes if not. Ongoing support should be agreed which can be a manager or colleague or occupational health if appropriate.

Mental health can fluctuate over time which means that ongoing monitoring of adjustments will be important, to ensure that the adjustments continue to assist the individual and remain reasonable for the employer.

Policy

Many businesses will have an Absence Policy and may have a Diversity Policy in place but Acas suggest where appropriate a standalone Reasonable Adjustments for Mental Health policy may be a good idea.

The aim of such a policy would be to set down how and when reasonable adjustments for mental health can be accessed;  how managers are able to respond to such requests; how they will be monitored; and what happens when they no longer work.

If you would like any assistance with reasonable adjustments at work or would like to implement policies in your workplace, please get in touch.