May 15 to May 21 2023 is World Mental Health Awareness Week. Although awareness of mental health has arisen in the last decade or so and with it, the stigma attached to mental health conditions is slowly starting to lessen, have employers made big enough moves to ensure they are doing everything they can to help employees effected by poor mental health?
From the “baby blues” to having an “off-day”, we have come a long way as a society in recognising that poor mental health can be a very serious health condition. Whilst physical impairments are generally easier to detect and understand, it is important that we recognise that poor mental health and wellbeing can be a disability under the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act defines a disability as 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.” Whilst not all mental health concerns will be caught by this, it is quite a wide net meaning many instances will.
Mental Health as a Disability
Where the Equality Act applies, employers are obliged to consider whether there are any reasonable adjustments that could be made to assist an employee or worker in carrying out their job role. To this effect, ACAS has issued new guidance on reasonable adjustments for those affected by mental health at work.
One in six employees experience poor mental health every year. It is therefore imperative that managers are able to recognise and address the impact that poor mental health can have on employee’s ability to effectively perform their duties.
The new ACAS guidance sets out:
- An explanation of what reasonable adjustments for mental health are
- Examples of reasonable adjustments for mental health
- How employees should make a request for reasonable adjustments in relation to mental health
- How employer should respond to requests for reasonable adjustments in relation to mental health
- Advice for employers regarding how to manage ongoing reasonable adjustments for mental health
Employer’s Duty to Make Reasonable Adjustments
Reasonable adjustments could take a variety of forms, but generally speaking, they are changes that an employer can (and should) make to remove or reduce any disadvantage experienced by an employee or worker as a direct consequence of their disability. The fact that an employee or worker may not have told their employer that they have a disability does not release the employer from the obligation to make reasonable adjustments if it could be said that they reasonably ought to have known know that a disability exists.
Reasonable adjustments should be made for mental health disabilities as well as for physical disabilities. It’s important that employers take mental health problems just as seriously as physical health. As with physical disabilities, no two individuals suffering with the same metal health condition will experience exactly the same symptoms. Therefore when considering what reasonable adjustments can be made, it’s important to apply an individualistic approach in each circumstance. This means taking into consideration the job role, the individuals’ symptoms and background circumstances and also remembering to review adjustments on an ongoing basis to ensure that those in place are still working. The condition of someone’s mental health can and does vary over time so it is important to monitor this and consider whether any adjustments that have been put in place are still suitable, or whether different adjustments may be better.
Examples of reasonable adjustments
Reasonable adjustments can be in relation to:
- moving an employee or worker to a different area of work
- adapting the physical working environment
- changing their hours and/or days of work
- altering the application of policies
- the provision of specialist support or equipment
Benefits of Making Reasonable Adjustments
As well as being a legal requirement, there are real benefits to employers in making reasonable adjustments. For example, being able to retain employees and therefore reducing costs associated with recruitment and training new employees; reducing absence levels, contributions to sick pay and admin time arranging suitable cover; and ensuring a healthy workplace environment where employees feel valued.
Employers should make sure that they are aware of ACAS’s new guidance so that understand their duty to make reasonable adjustments in relation to mental health disabilities and should take this opportunity to review internal policies to ensure they are compliant with this new guidance.
If you feel your organisation would benefit from an audit of the current policies it has in place or you need any specific advice on this area, please get in touch with a member of the employment team on 03330 430350.