New guidance from ACAS on reasonable adjustments for mental health

ACAS has recently published new guidance on making reasonable adjustments for mental health. The link to the ACAS guidance is here. The prevalence of mental health conditions is becoming much more widely acknowledged and talked about, and schools should therefore take the time to make sure they are complying with their legal obligations.

The ACAS guidance sets out best practice advice and recommendations on how to navigate this difficult topic and the sensitive conversations that go with it.

Mental health as a disability

Under the Equality Act, a disability is a mental or physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day to day activities. Whilst mental health is often not visible, it is important employers do not overlook it when considering whether someone may have a disability, and the guidance makes clear that employers should treat someone with a mental health difficulty as seriously and with the same care as they would treat someone with a physical illness.

Reasonable adjustments

Where a member of staff has a disability, there is a legal obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments for them. ACAS recommends that employers also consider potential adjustments for someone whose mental health difficulties are not sufficiently serious to meet the disability definition – whilst this is not a legal obligation, it is nevertheless worth employers bearing this in mind as recommended best practice.

The guidance gives useful examples of the types of reasonable adjustment that may be helpful to someone who is struggling with their mental health.  These adjustments cover six broad areas:

  • adjustments to an employee’s area of work
  • changes to their physical working environment
  • changes to their working arrangements
  • finding a different way of doing something
  • adapting the way policies are applied
  • providing equipment, services or support

The process

All individuals are different, and what works for one employee may not work for another. The guidance emphasises the importance of employers and employees working together to find the adjustments that work for each individual.  

The guidance suggests that the process of identifying and agreeing reasonable adjustments should start with a meeting between the employer and employee, at which an open conversation takes place to enable both parties’ needs to be met.  

A clear theme of the new guidance is the need to monitor adjustments that are put in place and to keep them under review on an ongoing basis to make sure that they are working well. The severity of any mental health condition can fluctuate, so employers should be mindful of the benefit of holding regular follow-up meetings to discuss how adjustments are working for both the employer and employee.

Some schools may find it helpful to have a policy in place that sets out the process for agreeing reasonable adjustments, and the guidance contains a checklist of topics that would normally be covered in a reasonable adjustments policy. Schools that do have a reasonable adjustment policy should be careful to ensure that their policy is consistent with the new guidance. Other schools may prefer the flexibility of not having to stick to a rigid policy when assessing reasonable adjustments, but should nevertheless be careful to ensure they treat employees as fairly and consistently as possible.

How Moore Barlow can help

The process of agreeing reasonable adjustments with an employee can often be challenging for schools. Many schools are unsure how to approach the topic of staff mental health, what makes an adjustment “reasonable”, or how to respond to a request that may reach beyond what the school can reasonably be expected to accommodate. The publication of this new guidance presents a good opportunity for schools to review their practices and to make sure they are complying with their duty to make reasonable adjustments for both physical and mental health conditions.

How Moore Barlow can help

We regularly advise schools on their duties under the Equality Act and if you would like guidance on how to navigate the reasonable adjustment process then you should get in touch.