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HCR Law Events

26 May 2023

New ACAS guidance on reasonable adjustments for mental health: Implications for schools

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (“ACAS”) have recently launched new guidance on making reasonable adjustments for mental health.

Whilst it is not legally binding, it sets out best practice and provides a helpful framework for both employers and employees regarding how to approach the implementation of reasonable adjustments in the context of mental health.

The full ACAS guidance can be found here.

Disability

Under the Equality Act 2010 (“EA 2010”), an individual is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and that impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out ‘normal day-to-day activities’. Whilst ‘normal day-to-day activities’ is not defined in the EA 2010, guidance to the Act suggests that this includes things that individuals would do on a regular or daily basis. One of the examples given, amongst various others, is ‘general work-related activities’.

A reasonable adjustment is one that is made by an employer to reduce or remove the disadvantage that an individual is subject to because of their disability. The EA 2010 imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants.

Mental health conditions are a mental impairment and may have a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to carry out ‘normal day-to-day activities’. As such, mental health conditions may be considered a disability under the EA 2010.

In a scenario where an individual is suffering with a mental health condition that is a disability under the EA 2010, it is important that schools, as employers, are aware of the obligation to make reasonable adjustments. The requirement to make reasonable adjustments is anticipatory in nature, which means that suitable adjustments should be considered by schools in advance and not only when they are requested.

It should be noted that the ACAS guidance also encourages employers to consider making reasonable adjustments, even where there is not a disability for the purposes of the EA 2010 and the legal duty is not triggered.

ACAS mental health guidance

The new ACAS guidance is not legally binding. However, it does provide a helpful framework for both schools and their employees. It encourages employers and employees to take a collaborative approach in identifying appropriate reasonable adjustments.

The guidance gives clear and helpful advice on the following:

Appropriate reasonable adjustments

Forms of reasonable adjustment that may be appropriate where the disability is a mental health condition are identified within the ACAS guidance. The list of suggestions provided includes, but is not limited to, the employer making changes to the working arrangements or environment, adapting how the organisations policies are applied and providing equipment, services, or support to the individual.

Schools should bear in mind that the type of adjustment implemented will be unique to the individual and their circumstances. It may be that some adjustments work well from the outset, whilst others need to be reviewed over time.

The benefits of implementing reasonable adjustments

The guidance also notes that making reasonable adjustments for employees suffering from, or recovering from, mental health conditions will have several positive outcomes. It is outlined that reasonable adjustments can help employers:

  • to retain their employees and reduce the need to recruit and train;
  • to reduce levels of absence and the associated costs incurred;
  • to make sure that their employees are well, safe, and productive in the workplace;
  • to create a healthy work culture;
  • to build mental health awareness; and
  • to demonstrate their commitment to good practice.

Preparing for a meeting to discuss reasonable adjustments 

Helpful guidance is provided for both employees and employers on the best way to approach an initial discussion surrounding reasonable adjustments.

When preparing for such a meeting, it is recommended that an employer should consider any internal policies in respect of mental health, absence, or reasonable adjustment, and make an effort to reflect on the position and feelings of the employee.

In terms of the meeting itself, ACAS proposes that the meeting should involve, amongst other factors (as outlined in the full guidance linked above), checking in on the employee, discussing any relevant policies, asking what reasonable adjustments the employee would like to explore and agreeing a strategy.

The guidance recommends that if any reasonable adjustments are agreed in the meeting, they should be put in writing. ACAS have produced an example template letter, which can be found here.

Policy

There is no legal requirement to have a written policy on reasonable adjustments. If a school does not have such a policy, the ACAS guidance states that the law should be followed. However, if a school does have a specific reasonable adjustments policy or is considering implementing one, we would recommend that it is reviewed in the light of the ACAS guidance to ensure that it suitably deals with mental health disabilities.

Within the guidance, ACAS sets out an extensive list of features that any policy on reasonable adjustments for mental health should have. These features include the policy being clear, accessible, and using language that demonstrates care. It is also suggested that any policy should be easy for employees to locate and understand and implemented consistently by managers.

Impact on schools

As noted above, the ACAS guidance is not legally binding. It does, however, reflect existing best practice when dealing with reasonable adjustments in the context of mental health conditions. Schools should be aware of the guidance when dealing with employees who suffer, or are recovering from, mental health conditions and may wish to consider updating existing policies dealing with the duty to make reasonable adjustments in line with the ACAS guidance.

If you have any queries regarding this note, please contact Rachel Parkin or Oliver Daniels.

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