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  • Writer's pictureSusan Wakelin

ACAS Guidance on Reasonable Adjustments for Mental Health?

The good news is that the disabled workforce in the UK increased by two million people between 2013 and 2022, but how do employers ensure that they fully support their disabled employees?

The Equality Act 2010 protects disabled workers from discrimination, which includes employees with mental health conditions and, according to the Government-sponsored Thriving at Work report, poor mental health costs employers £33 to £42 billion a year, due to absence, presenteeism and staff turnover.

How do you know an employee has a disability?

Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, but what is defined as a disability? For an employee to be found to have a disability, they need to demonstrate:

  • they have an impairment that is either mental or physical

  • the impairment affects their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities

  • the adverse effect of the impairment is substantial

  • the adverse effect of the impairment is long term.

What is classed as an impairment under the Equality Act?

The Equality Act specifically states that a disability can arise from a wide range of impairments, which can be:

  • sensory impairments, such as those affecting sight or hearing

  • impairments with fluctuating or recurring effects such as rheumatoid arthritis, myalgic encephalitis (ME), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, depression and epilepsy

  • progressive, such as motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, and forms of dementia

  • auto-immune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE)

  • organ specific, including respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and cardiovascular diseases, including thrombosis, stroke and heart disease

  • developmental, such as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), dyslexia and dyspraxia

  • learning disabilities

  • mental health conditions with symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, panic attacks, phobias, or unshared perceptions; eating disorders; bipolar affective disorders; obsessive compulsive disorders; personality disorders; post traumatic stress disorder, and some self-harming behaviour

  • mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia

  • produced by injury to the body, including to the brain

There are, however, certain conditions that are not regarded as an impairment and therefore are not protected under the Equality Act:

  • addiction to, or dependency on, alcohol, nicotine, or any other substance (other than in consequence of the substance being medically prescribed)

  • the condition known as seasonal allergic rhinitis (for example, hayfever), except where it aggravates the effect of another condition

  • tendency to set fires

  • tendency to steal

  • tendency to physical or sexual abuse of other persons

  • exhibitionism

  • voyeurism

How do employers manage Mental Health at Work?

According to The Office of National Statistics (ONS) approximately 18.5 million sick days were lost in 2022 due to mental health conditions. It is therefore important that employers know how to support employees' and make reasonable adjustments at work to remove or reduce any disadvantages created because of their mental health. Adjustments may include:

  • making changes to the building or premises

  • changing the way in which work is done

  • providing specialist or specific equipment

These adjustments must be reasonable for the employer, who should consider how:

  • effective the adjustment will be in helping them employee do their job

  • practical it is to make the adjustment

  • much disruption, if any, would be caused to the business or other people by making the adjustment

  • much, if at all, the adjustment would cost, while considering the size and resources of the company.

What is the ACAS guidance for employers to support employees with mental health conditions?

ACAS published guidance for employers to support employees with mental health conditions to help prevent employees from taking time off work.

"Simple changes to a person's working arrangements or responsibilities could be enough to help them stay in work and work well." – ACAS

ACAS guidance includes:

  • changes to someone's physical working environment

  • changes to someone's working arrangements

  • finding a different way to do something

  • adapting the way policies are applied

  • providing equipment, services or support

Line managers often find it difficult talking to employees about their mental health. However, ACAS recognise this and point out that employees with mental health conditions may not improve immediately or their condition may fluctuate.

ACAS also point out that managers play a critical role in supporting their employees by working closely with them and by monitoring reasonable adjustments to ensure that they are successful.

It is also important that employers don't always try to manage these situations alone and consider external support when required, such as an employee assistance programme, counselling or occupational health.

SWan HR Consultancy (London and Kent)

SWan HR is an HR consultancy that specialises in HR support for small to medium sized businesses in the South East.

"Where HR Succeeds, the Business Achieves"

SWan HR was founded by Susan Wakelin, MCIPD, who is a qualified HR professional with over thirty years' experience, from setting up, auditing and improving HR functions to management coaching and supporting organisations through difficult situations, transformation and change.

SWan HR provides a broad range of tailored HR services including an HR audit, HR advice, HR outsourcing, HR coaching and project work for all businesses.

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Contact Susan Wakelin now to take advantage of a free half-hour consultation to talk through your initial HR concerns and how you can manage these going forward.

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