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Acas publishes new guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health

The importance of addressing mental health in the workplace has grown significantly as more employees encounter mental health challenges. With the pandemic causing significant strain on mental health, ensuring you are providing adequate support has become more crucial than ever. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has recently released new guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health, providing employers with practical advice on how to identify and implement adjustments to support their employees. In this article, we will discuss the key points from the guidance and what employers should consider when making reasonable adjustments for their employees' mental health.

Making reasonable adjustments

Employers should treat mental and physical health as equally important. Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to support employees if they know (or could reasonably be expected to know) that an employee is disabled. As a reminder, someone is considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. The new guidance from Acas goes further and recommends that employers should also try to make reasonable adjustments for an employee even if their mental health issue does not amount to a disability.

The guidance highlights several examples of reasonable adjustments that employers can make to support employees with mental health conditions. These adjustments include changing someone’s roles and responsibilities to help reduce stress and anxiety, and reviewing working relationships and communication styles such as agreeing a preferred communication method for an employee. The guidance also suggests changes to an employee’s physical working environment, including allowing employees to work from home, or relocating an employee’s workspace to a quieter area within the office.

Responding to requests

The guidance goes on to advise employers on how to respond to requests for reasonable adjustments. The guidance recommends that employers take a proactive and supportive approach and engage in an open dialogue with the employee to understand their needs and explore possible adjustments. It stresses that employers and employees should work together to find adjustments for mental health. It is important to remember that everyone's experience of mental health is different, and mental health problems can come on suddenly or fluctuate over time.

Employers should consider the organisation’s policies, review any medical evidence the employee provides and seek expert advice from an occupational health professional if necessary. If an adjustment is agreed upon, employers should put it in writing and ensure that relevant colleagues are aware of the adjustment.

Managing employees with reasonable adjustments

The guidance also advises employers to regularly review and reassess the adjustments to ensure they remain effective and to make any necessary adjustments in response to changes in the employee's circumstances. Mental health problems can persist over extended periods, therefore employers should put in place ongoing support and a process to review reasonable adjustments.

This includes scheduling follow-up meetings at appropriate intervals, as well as ensuring managers are well equipped to support employees on an ongoing basis. Managers should be able to have conversations with employees about their mental health, as well as being able to recognise changes in behaviour and ensuring they are flexible with employees’ needs.

Reviewing policies with mental health in mind

Acas' guidance also emphasises the importance of reviewing workplace policies and procedures with mental health in mind. This includes considering how policies on sickness absence, performance management, and disciplinary procedures may impact employees with mental health conditions. The guidance suggests that employers should aim to create policies that are flexible, supportive, and inclusive, and that take into account the particular needs of employees with mental health conditions. This can help to reduce the risk of discrimination and ensure that employees with mental health conditions are treated fairly and consistently.

Alongside the guidance, Acas has published case studies that showcase how various organisations have successfully implemented reasonable adjustments for mental health. Additionally, short factsheets and template letters are available for both employees and employers, providing practical information and guidance on this topic.

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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