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New ACAS guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health

Posted on 10 May 2023

Acas has published new guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health in the workplace, for both employers and employees.

For employers, supporting the mental wellbeing of their workforce can involve challenges. Employees can be reluctant to discuss their mental health and identifying cases of poor mental health can be tricky, with it often being regarded as an "invisible" disability with few physical manifestations. Matters are further complicated by the fact that mental health can fluctuate over time and can present itself in different ways for each individual. That being said, mental illness can be debilitating, and it is important to treat mental health issues as seriously as physical health conditions.

Given the complexities surrounding mental health, the new Acas guidance sets out useful examples of reasonable adjustments that can be made for mental health along with case studies, and suggests how employers (and employees) should handle conversations and processes concerning reasonable adjustments for mental health. It also underlines the benefits of providing support in the form of reasonable adjustments, for both the employer and employee.

What are reasonable adjustments?

The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled job applicants, employees, workers and contractors where the disabled person is put at a substantial disadvantage by an employer's provision, criterion or practice, a physical feature of the employer's premises, or an employer's failure to provide an auxiliary aid.

A 'disability', as defined in the Equality Act, includes a mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the employee's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Mental illnesses can therefore often fall into this definition.

An employer is only obliged to make reasonable adjustments where it knows or ought reasonably to know that the individual in question is disabled and likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability. The Acas guidance suggests that an employer should also aim to make reasonable adjustments even where a mental health issue does not amount to a disability, and points out that simple changes to an individual's way of working could lead to more productive and content employees, who are likely to stay in work.

Key takeaways from the new Acas guidance

  1. The benefits of making reasonable adjustments for mental health include improved employee retention, reduced absence levels and a healthy work culture. Reasonable adjustments can also help employees work safely and productively.
  2. Whilst appropriate adjustments will be specific to the individual and can take time to identify, agree and monitor, the guidance sets out a broad range of measures which could act as reasonable adjustments. These include:
    • changing someone's role and responsibilities;
    • reviewing working relationships and communication styles;
    • adjusting the physical working environment; and
    • making changes to the employer's policies and procedures.
  3. The guidance recommends employers and employees meet and agree on a plan, and provides tips on how to prepare for such meetings.
  4. A flexible approach typically needs to be adopted in mental health cases. It will often be necessary to regularly review and monitor what works and what does not. Employers and employees may find it helpful to arrange follow-up meetings to discuss how the adjustments are working.
  5. Acas highlights the benefits of open communication around mental health, as well as the difficulties of discussing it in a professional setting. The guidance provides useful pointers on how to approach conversations about mental health and reasonable adjustments, and reminds employers of the value of involving, where necessary, an occupational health professional in discussions about reasonable adjustments.
  6. The guidance encourages employers to review and familiarise themselves with their policies on mental health, absence and reasonable adjustments, and suggests that employers might wish to put in place a reasonable adjustments policy which includes a focus on supporting mental health at work.

The new Acas guidance offers a helpful tool for navigating the often complex issue of reasonable adjustments in cases of mental illness and employers may therefore find it a useful point of reference.  

If you would like more information on how best to manage mental health in your business, please get in touch with your usual Mishcon de Reya contact or with a member of the Employment team.

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