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Reasonable adjustments for mental health in the workplace- FAQs

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day indented to raise awareness of mental health problems. Mind estimates that 1 in 4 people have mental health problems, but that most do not receive the help that they need.

For those suffering from mental health problems, working, or returning to work after an absence can be intimidating. Employers may have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for their employees suffering from mental health problems. This year Acas released some guidance on what these adjustments might look like for employees with mental health problems. To help to get to grips with this guidance and what this means for employers and employees, here are our top ten FAQ’s on reasonable adjustments for mental health at work.

When does an employer have a duty to make reasonable adjustments?

An employer must make reasonable adjustments when they are aware, or could reasonably be expected to be aware, that one of their employees is disabled and they are at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability. They should make reasonable adjustments when it becomes clear that a disabled employee is having difficulty with an aspect of their job, or if the employee requests adjustments.

Is mental health a disability?

Mental health conditions may amount to a disability if they meet the statutory test in the Equality Act 2010. This asks if the mental health condition has a substantial and long term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. For many people with severe mental health conditions, this test will be met.

What if the employee doesn’t think they are disabled?

It may be that an individual doesn’t think of their mental health condition as a disability. However, an employer should always be aware that it could be considered a disability from an employment law perspective, and of their duties if this is found to be so.

On a practical level too, it is useful for an employer to try to make reasonable adjustments where possible, even if the employee does not consider themselves disabled, so as to make their workforce happier and more productive.

Can employers use the same adjustments for every case?

Mental health affects people in very different ways. Two employees with severe stress and anxiety very likely will not experience the same symptoms, have the same triggers, or find assistance from the same adjustments.

It is important for employers to consider reasonable adjustments on a case by case basis, and be flexible in terms of what works for each employee.

Once an employer has made an adjustment, is that enough?

Mental health conditions often change, with symptoms and needs varying over time. It may be that whilst an adjustment works currently, it will not in the future.

Employers should keep reasonable adjustments under review, reconsidering the employee’s and the business’ needs on a semi-regular basis, or when requested, to ensure that the adjustments are working for everyone. Best practice for an employer would be to set a reminder date at least every 6 months to revisit the case and see if the adjustments are working or need amending.

Lucy Densham Brown

Solicitor

View profile

+44 118 960 4655

Acas has recently released guidance for employers and employees on reasonable adjustments for mental health in the workplace.

What is the benefit for the employer?

Making reasonable adjustments for employees can help them to stay in work whilst recovering from or managing a mental health condition.

Generally speaking, making reasonable adjustments creates a positive and inclusive culture in the workplace, which helps to retain employees and boost productivity.

What kind of adjustments could an employer make?

Adjustments for an employee with a mental health condition might be different from those made for physically disabled employees. Possible adjustments might include:

  • Changing the employee’s role or responsibilities to reduce workload and stress
  • Reviewing working relationships to ensure the employee is working with trusted colleagues who are sensitive to their condition
  • Offering changes to the physical working environment for example by allowing someone to work from home
  • Offering extended phased return to work to allow someone to build up gradually
  • Providing training or coaching
  • Providing a buddy or mentor to be a dedicated support person

Is it up to the employee to make suggestions?

It may well be that the employee does not know what suggestions are open to them, or they may not feel confident making suggestions. Usually it is the employee who comes to a reasonable adjustments meeting with suggestions, but that does not mean that the employer does not have to engage in the conversation and suggest ideas. It is the employer’s duty at the end of the day to make those adjustments, so they should be actively considering what will work and what they can offer.

A good employer will have a conversation with the employee where they actively engage and work together to come up with good suggestions which are reasonable and work for both parties.

How should employers record reasonable adjustments being made?

A request for reasonable adjustments should be made in writing. Notes should then be taken at the reasonable adjustments meeting, and copies provided to both parties. The outcome should then be set out in a formal letter, which explains the adjustments being made and why they have been selected. Any further adjustments should be documented in a similar way. This provides accountability for both the employee and the employer, and is a good tool to use for future cases to know steps that have worked in the past.

What action can employers take now?

Employers should consider any policies they have in place regarding absence and reasonable adjustments. Do these policies take mental health conditions into consideration? They should consider the language used in the policies, and make sure that it is clear that they accommodate mental health reasonable adjustment requests too.

Employers should also review any adjustments they have in place and consider if they need updating. They should take stock of their employees, and check if there are any that are clearly struggling who may have a mental health condition that the employer has been overlooking.

Finally, employers should provide training to their management staff to ensure that they know how to talk to employees with mental health conditions, and are aware of the signs to look out for to identify those who may need additional support.

If you would like guidance on updating policies, or if you are a concerned employer or employee going into a reasonable adjustments meeting and would like some advice, or you have any other concerns regarding mental health in the workplace, please reach out to our employment lawyers who would be happy to support you.

About this article

Disclaimer
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

Lucy Densham Brown

Solicitor

View profile

+44 118 960 4655

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