Last month ACAS issued guidance on reasonable adjustments employers can make at work for those who have mental health challenges. Here is a brief guide to your legal obligations as an employer regarding mental health, and steps you can take to help make the working environment more suitable for employees struggling with their mental health.
What are reasonable adjustments for mental health?
A reasonable adjustment has a specific legal meaning relating to an employer making changes to lessen or eliminate a disadvantage suffered by a disabled person carrying out work for them, whether they are a worker, employee, self-employed or a job applicant.
As an employer, you have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments where the person carrying out work for you is disabled under the Equality Act 2010. Whether an individual is disabled will depend on the facts in each case, but disabilities can be physical and/or mental and that individual will need to have or be expected to suffer from a condition for at least 12 months, or the rest of their life, and the impairment must have a significant effect on their day-to-day activities.
Reasonable adjustments for mental health are any changes you can make to the working environment which make it easier for someone with a mental health problem to function effectively at work and may not be an adaptation other staff require. Even if an employee is not disabled under the definition contained in the Equality Act, you may still want to make adjustments to your workplace to assist a staff member with a specific mental health challenge.
How can I make sure I am putting in place reasonable adjustments my staff need?
Here are a few useful tips for your business relating to reasonable adjustments and mental health:
- Make clear to staff where and how they can seek support if they are struggling, for example a contact in human resources or another manager. You may also consider offering a confidential staff counselling service.
- Ensure you have a clear and up to date diversity policy and train all staff about discrimination. Where you can, encourage a culture of open communication to allow staff to feel comfortable sharing their struggles without judgment or concern for the safety of their job. If you would like further assistance with drafting or updating policies in this area, our specialist employment lawyers can help.
- Listen carefully to the specifics of what your employee is struggling with, the impact it is having and how they think this could be minimized and resolved. You could also research whether other employees and employers have experienced the same or similar issues, to see what solutions, if any, have proved successful. You will then need to assess whether any potential solutions are possible for your specific type of workplace and whether they are financially viable for your specific business.
- It may be appropriate to consider medical opinion. You could request that the employee consents to contact with their GP or other medical practitioners, or you may want to involve an Occupational Health Doctor to assess your staff member and make suggestions on reasonable adjustments which might assist.
- It may be that the solution is not immediately obvious and that you need to trial a few different reasonable adjustments for a reasonable period. Ensure that you schedule a follow-up meeting with the employee to review whether the adjustment has worked.
It is clearly beneficial to your business to make reasonable adjustments where required, not only to fulfil your legal obligations, but to ensure that your employees are as happy and healthy as they can be at work. To enable your business to be productive and for high quality work to be produced, ensuring that your employees are well supported and not distracted may be helpful priorities. Alternatively, if employees do not feel able to attend work, you are likely to suffer from long term sickness absences.
Clear and regular dialogue on what mental health issues employees are experiencing and what would alleviate any symptoms and keeping communication going to see if something has changed or to assess whether reasonable adjustments are working is pivotal in keeping employees with mental health challenges productive at work. If you have any questions about mental health at work or reasonable adjustments, our employment lawyers can help.