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New ACAS mental health guidance: reasonable adjustments
  • May 23, 2023
  • Latest News

ACAS, in conjunction with Affinity Health at Work, has launched new guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health at work. It contains guidance for both employers and workers. David Leach and Hannah Peto examine what it says.

The ACAS guidance covers:
• What reasonable adjustments for mental health are;
• Examples of reasonable adjustments for mental health;
• Requesting reasonable adjustments for mental health;
• Responding to reasonable adjustments for mental health requests;
• Managing employees with reasonable adjustments for mental health;
• Reviewing policies with mental health in mind.

What is advised by ACAS:
Sets out some practical solutions on how to deal with/responding to reasonable adjustment request (this includes consideration of what your current policies say) – Try and put yourself in the position the requesting employee is in
• The support to consider before an employer responds to a request and the impact these changes might make
• Suggestions on how the employer can agree a plan with the employee on implementing adjustments and review
• Use of trial periods and regular review to get the best solution

What reasonable adjustments for mental health are and the overarching advice from ACAS
Reasonable adjustments are actions an employer can take to reduce/remove a disadvantage related to someone’s disability. Employers must make reasonable adjustments when they have a PCP (Provision, Criterion or Practice) which puts someone, with a disability, at a substantial disadvantage

The Law (Equality Act 2010) says that employers must make reasonable adjustments for: workers, contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do work, and job applicants.

The employer must make a reasonable adjustment to alleviate that disadvantage:
• They know, or could reasonably be expected to know, someone is disabled;
• A disabled staff member or job applicant asks for adjustments;
• Someone who’s disabled is having difficulty with any part of their job;
• Someone’s absence record or delay in returning to work is because of, or linked to, their disability.

Making reasonable adjustments for mental health

Mental health is a person’s emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing
Employers and employees should work together to agree and review reasonable adjustments over time to make sure that the adjustments work well. Making reasonable adjustments helps to retain employees and reduce absence at work. It also helps create a healthy work culture.

Examples of reasonable adjustments for mental health
• Changing someone’s roles and responsibilities
• Reviewing working relationships and communication styles
• Changing the physical working environment
• Policy changes i.e., offering paid time off for someone to attend appointments
• Additional support i.e., modifying supervision, providing training, providing a buddy.
• Agreeing a preferred communication method to help reduce anxiety – for example reducing the impromptu without notice phone calls (where possible).

Responding to reasonable adjustments for mental health requests

When responding to responding to reasonable adjustments for mental health requests, you should:

Get advice from an occupational health professional.
Have a conversation and agree a plan with your employee. This should be done in the form of a meeting. You should share any policies relevant to reasonable adjustments and mental health and explain to them that some things might be possible and some things might not be possible.

In the meeting you should:
• Check in on how they are.
• Ask them what reasonable adjustments they would like to explore and why they think these would be helpful to them. You should then discuss how the reasonable adjustments could work in practice.
• Agree the reasonable adjustments to try.
• Agree a plan to review and monitor the reasonable adjustments.
• Sharing what ongoing support is available to the employee.
• Trial and monitor the reasonable adjustments
• Put in place ongoing support and a process to review reasonable adjustments

After the meeting, you should confirm the agreed reasonable adjustments in writing.

As with any sickness absence that could be long running, recording how the employee wants to be kept in contact with. Knowing the frequency, method of communication and who they are communicating with can be very useful.

Managing employees with reasonable adjustments for mental health
It is sometimes difficult to have discussions with people about their mental health. There are some easy and subtle ways to effectively manage those who are struggling with mental health. Recognising changing behavior, being flexible in your approach to adjustments, showing on-going support, and knowing when to ask for help from others (i.e. senior leaders, HR, OH) are all key to managing your employees.

It is important to note that reasonable adjustments might not work straight away. Managers should monitor how the adjustments are impacting the employee, review the reasonable adjustments as agreed, and arrange regular check-ins with the employee to see how the reasonable adjustments are working.

Reviewing policies with mental health in mind
Most organisations have absence and reasonable adjustment policies in place. Employers are encouraged to review their policies to ensure they account for mental health issues.

A policy helps make clear how and when reasonable adjustments for mental health can be accessed, how managers can respond and support staff, how reasonable adjustments will be reviewed and monitored, and what happens if reasonable adjustments are not working for the person.

The policy should reference a mental health strategy, include activities to raise awareness of mental health, contain information on any internal support available, and provide information on manager training and support.