Mental health problems - supporting employees through 'reasonable' adjustments

Phil Kirk
Director of Marketing and Communications | Health Management Ltd
13th August 2015

Employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace due to mental (or physical) illness.

As part of this protection, employers are obliged to make adjustments to employees’ jobs or working environments to reduce the impact of their health conditions on their ability to work, and to ensure they are getting the right support.

Often, simple workplace adjustments can allow people with mental health conditions to continue living healthy and productive working lives. But one question that’s asked by many organisation is: what’s 'reasonable'?

In a nutshell, the definition of a 'reasonable' adjustment would be one that's effective for the employee without being too disruptive, costly or impractical for the employer to provide.

Making workplace adjustments to allow a person experiencing mental health problems to stay in work is important for a number of reasons.

The Equality Act 2010 states that employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities in order to ensure that they have the same access to everything that involves gaining or keeping employment as a non-disabled person.

Whilst many people with mental health conditions might not consider themselves to be disabled, their condition might be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if it has a serious impact on their day-to-day life over a long period.

From a business perspective, proactive management of employees’ mental and physical health can produce a range of benefits, including:

- reduction of sickness absence
- greater staff engagement and productivity
- reduced staff turnover
- recruitment and costs

So, what might these ‘reasonable adjustments’ entail? They could include a whole gamut of adaptations depending on a person’s health condition and working environment, but could include:

  • taking a flexible approach to start/finish times and/or shift patterns
  • allowing the use of paid or unpaid leave for medical appointments
  • providing a quiet space for breaks away from the main workspace
  • offering a reserved parking space
  • increasing the frequency of supervision
  • supporting someone to prioritise their work
  • providing a job coach

Often, smaller organisations don’t have their own in-house occupational health department, which can put substantial pressure on managers who are trying to support staff with health issues whilst looking out for the best interests of their organisations.


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