It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the grounds of mental illness. Employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure the workplace can accommodate and support the employment of people with mental illness.
What are reasonable adjustments?
Reasonable adjustments enable an employee with a mental illness or mental health issue to:
- safely perform the inherent or essential requirements of their job in the workplace
- have equal opportunity in recruitment processes, promotion and training
- enjoy equal terms and conditions of employment.
Adjustments in the workplace can include:
- telephone calls during work hours to doctor/counsellor/other supports and a private place to do so
- flexible work schedule – hours/start time/location e.g. work from home
- allowing attendance at social events to be optional, with no subtle or overt peer pressure applied if invitations declined.
An adjustment becomes 'unreasonable' when it causes an employer an ‘unjustifiable hardship’ to implement. In considering what an 'unreasonable adjustment' is, take into account:
- the benefit or detriment to the employee
- any benefit or detriment to others affected by the adjustment
- the effect of the mental illness
- the cost of the adjustment and the employer’s financial position, and
- the availability of financial or other assistance to the employer in making the adjustment.
When designing reasonable adjustments it is imperative that a view is taken to balance the operational needs of the business (including productivity and possible impacts on other staff) with the specific needs of the individual employee. Ensure all outcomes of conversations are documented and expectations are clear. UWA Human Resources staff can provide support and advice at any stage of this process. There are also resources for managers that you may find useful.
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Steps to follow
- Analyse the core requirements of the job – e.g. key tasks, work flow issues, seasonal variations, key performance indicators (KPIs), location/work area issues etc.
- Assess the person's functional capacity against these core requirements, using multiple sources of information – the individual, their supervisors, work output measurements, observations etc.
- Identify possible reasonable adjustments to accommodate for the functional impacts.
- There are multiple stakeholders involved in designing and implementing adjustments. You will need to articulate adjustments with each of them to varying degrees.
- The identified adjustments may require approval and discussion with Human Resources / senior management
- Articulate the process and decisions (including any restrictions and timeframes for review) to the employee with mental health issues as you progress through the process
- Determine with that employee how any visible adjustments will be articulated further to other staff.
Your documentation provides evidence of due process being followed. Ensure that you document each stage of the process, including:
- Who has been consulted in the process
- The steps that have been taken
- The determined adjustments
- The time frame for trial and review
- Any KPIs for review
- How the adjustments are being articulated to others.
Document on a Return to Work Plan.
4. Follow-up and follow through
- Once agreed, follow through on any supports that have been promised (e.g. if the agreement is to relocate an employee's work desk, ensure that appropriate approval is given for access to their new location, ensure that IT supports are contacted etc).
- When implementing adjustments start with a trial period and assess from there if the adjustments can, or need to, become permanent.
- Reassess after the trial period and if any concerns at this point (or throughout the process) contact Human Resources for support.
- Sometimes even the most rigidly designed adjustments may not be sustainable or effective. However, it can take time to realise this.
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