Deteriorating mental health is becoming an increasingly serious cause for concern worldwide. The World Health Organisation (‘WHO’) reports that 15% of working-age adults are estimated to have a mental disorder. Additionally, the House of Commons briefing on mental health reports that 3.25 million people accessed NHS mental health, learning disability and autism services in 2021/22. In the same period in England, the NHS spent £14.9 billion on mental health services which accounts for 13.8% of local NHS funding allocations. Research by the mental health charity Mind has found that around 65% of adults and 68% of young people with mental health issues have experienced a deterioration in their condition since the first lockdown of the Covid pandemic.
It is therefore unsurprising that anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses accounted for nearly 25% of all sickness absences in September 2022. A lack of support from employers is only likely to exacerbate these statistics and worsen the impact on employees’ productivity.
What do I need to know?
In April 2023, ACAS issued guidance for employers and employees on reasonable adjustments for mental health (the ‘ACAS Guidance’). The ACAS Guidance encourages employers to take mental health seriously and address it with the same care as physical illnesses. It recognises that making reasonable adjustments for mental health can lead to improved employee retention, reduction in employee absences and improved employee wellbeing.
Whilst employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with disabilities, there is often confusion over whether mental health conditions can be classed as a disability or not. This is a question of fact and will be assessed by looking at whether the condition is a mental or physical impairment, which is long-term and has a significant impact on an individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. In any event, the guidance encourages employers to make reasonable adjustments even if the health concern is not immediately classed as a disability.
Reasonable adjustments for employees
The nature of the reasonable adjustments for mental health can be wide-ranging. The ACAS guidance encourages employers and employees to work together to agree adjustments for mental health. Reasonable adjustments can include changes to the working environment e.g. working from home, relocating desks to quieter areas or providing parking spaces to reduce stressful commute times. However, employers should also be wary of the potential to apply reasonable adjustments to their policies by offering paid time off for workers to attend appointments, offering phased return to work after an episode of long-term sickness absence, or offering flexibility with trigger points for sickness absences. Employers need to appreciate that adjustments are specific to an individual and each request for adjustments should be considered separately.
The ACAS Guidance reminds employers that they need to be bear in mind that it can sometimes be difficult for workers with mental health issues to communicate or speak openly about their concerns. Accordingly, employers should try to recognise changes in their employees’ behaviour. Where employers do notice that an employee is struggling with their mental health, they should make an effort to check in with them and ask how they are, offer any support available through the employer’s business, let them know about any reasonable adjustments which can be offered and direct them to policies governing the same.
Where reasonable adjustments are agreed between employers and employees and subsequently put in place, it is important that these are confirmed in writing. Employers should also follow up with workers on whether the adjustments have been beneficial for the employee’s mental health or if anything further or different should be implemented. The ACAS Guidance suggests that it may be helpful for employers and employees to agree to meet at specific points moving forward to discuss these points.
The ACAS Guidance suggests that it may also be beneficial for employers to adopt or amend existing policies to address reasonable adjustments for mental health. This can provide a good framework for employees to follow and understand their employer’s strategy on addressing reasonable adjustments for mental health.
If you are looking for further advice or guidance on how you can provide the best support for your employees, please get in touch with me and I’d be delighted to assist you.
You can access the full ACAS Guidance here.