Helping employees to beat the January Blues… at any time of the year

January is one of the darkest of months, not only seasonally but particularly so for people with depression and other mental health conditions. Whilst employers and colleagues of those with depression may not necessarily be able to make “reasonable adjustments” to the British January weather or growing post-Christmas debt, reasonable adjustments can and should be made within the workplace to alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Legal duty of the employer

Depression is more than just a feeling of unhappiness or a state of being fed-up – it is a real medical illness and is a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Therefore from a regulatory perspective, employers must make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, such as depression, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged from gaining or keeping employment in comparison with their non-disabled colleagues.

Mutual business benefit

From a commercial perspective, proactive management of an employee’s mental (or physical) health can serve the interests of an employer beyond fulfilling their legal duty. It can help to reduce sickness absence, increase staff engagement and productivity, maintain team morale, and reduce staff turnover, recruitment and costs. There are also ‘best practice’ arguments that employment can aid the recovery of people with mental health conditions – making the right reasonable adjustments for people with mental health conditions and educating their colleagues on such illnesses can maximise their likeliness to stay in or return to work.

A good starting point

Before complying with the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, employers should discuss with the individual what their specific needs are in relation to their mental health condition. As a starting point for discussions and recording agreements of adjustments, the Department of Health recommends the following tools:

  • A Fit for Work Statement – advice from the individual’s GP on the effects of their mental health condition and the adjustments which the employer could make to support the individual’s return to work.
  • Tailored adjustment agreement – a live record of the reasonable adjustments agreed between the employer and employee which can minimise the need to re-negotiate adjustments in the future.
  • ‘Staying Well’ Plans – plans which are completed by the individual to help both the employer and employee to understand how they are when they are well, how to identify when they become unwell and how to respond to such signs of illness.

Practical examples of “reasonable adjustments”

A flexible and supportive approach to solutions for employees with a mental health condition should be considered. The average cost of most adjustments are minimal, with some costs amounting to just £75 according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Here are some practical examples of delivering such an approach:

  • Offer flexible working hours, temporary part-time hours or the possibility to work from home at times.
  • Offer paid or unpaid leave for attending medical appointments.
  • Minimise noise levels in the work place, for example by reducing telephone ring tones and offering quiet break-out areas.
  • Increase the frequency of supervision.
  • Consider job sharing.
  • Provide a professional mentor.
  • Educate colleagues to help them understand and support an individual’s mental health condition.
  • Help individuals concerned to help their own road to recovery. For example -  provide extracurricular activities in the workplace where they can connect with their colleagues (as recommended by the NHS initiative, ’Mindful Employer’), or encourage lunch breaks away from their work station.

Like any other disability, a mental health condition does not have to put a stop to an employer and employee’s working relationship or the productivity and career progression of an employee. With a practical approach to support, providing simple yet reasonable adjustments, and normalisation of such adjustments, an employer can fulfil their legal duties, as well as provide an inclusive work environment for their workforce and promote their reputation as a diverse, meritocratic employer.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Dominic Watkins

Partner - Head of Food Group

I am Head of DWF’s internationally renowned food sector group as well as being Head of Regulatory in London.