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Reasonable accommodation at work

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New Zealand’s employers are more and more aware of the need to create inclusive workplaces. By law, they are obliged to take reasonable measures to ensure the needs of individuals are met. This is known as reasonable accommodation, but what does this look like in practice for employees with experience of mental distress?

Mental distress is common, yet many employers will not know if any of their employees have this experience. There is no legal requirement for employees to disclose, either at their interview or when they start the job, except under very rare circumstances (for example, if they are on medication which affects their ability to operate machinery safely).

However, disclosure may be necessary to ensure employees are provided with reasonable adjustments so they are able to work to their full potential.

Reasonable accommodation is not special treatment. Many employees may need changes to their work environment - for example, a parent who works full time may need time off to collect a sick child from school, or an office worker with lower back pain may require changes to their workstation. Likewise, changes may be needed for people who have experience of mental illness.

The easiest way to find out what these changes may look like is simply to ask. Never make assumptions about what your employee needs, as everyone is different. There are many accommodations that may be requested, but some of the most common include:

  • Job sharing
  • Working from home
  • Flexibility around hours of work, as well as sick and annual leave
  • Being able to attend appointments in work time
  • Setting up a work-station to limit/prevent distractions
  • Providing relevant training for supervisory staff
  • Allowing a gradual return to work after a period of absence
  • Professional supervision

If a requested accommodation seriously impacts on a business or organisation’s productivity or prevents an employee from fulfilling the requirements of their job, employers do not have to make it. But they are expected to keep an open mind about what accommodations they can make and fulfil the requests when they can.

Many employers are surprised at how flexible their workplace can be.

Read more information on reasonable accommodation  

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