What are my mental health obligations as an employer?

Wednesday, 09 August 2017

Mental Health is increasingly on the agenda of employers. Coupled with new research, suggesting that mismanagement of employees with mental health problems costs the UK economy £100million per year, it’s not surprising many firms want to manage this workforce sector appropriately.

And yet, a recent NHS survey found that 48% of staff would not feel comfortable talking with their bosses about mental health – a failure, surely, of workforce attitudes, HR and training.

Sarah Evans, Head of Employment at Slater & Gordon Lawyers, noted that despite an increased willingness for employers to engage with this subject, the law firm “still see employers getting it wrong”.

However, help is at hand. Evans explains that according to the Equality Act if an employee has suffered longstanding mental condition, which has lasted for 12 months or more, then that employee is disabled according to the law – something all employers need to be aware of.

This means that employers have to make reasonable adjustments for that employee to support them in their work.

Evans adds: “This could involve them being allowed to work from home a bit more when they symptoms are really bad, or being allowed have a few days off at short notice, to allow you hardworking, committed, probably a bit embarrassed employee to face the worst of it.”

The Slater & Gordon lawyer suggests that the companies with the best employee mental health considerations want to “understand what [mental health] means.”

“They involve occupational health, get a medical report and talk and listen to colleagues,” she says, “chances are they have an idea what they need, and chances are also it won’t be six months paid leave or a trip to the stars.”

And, Evans stresses, employers need to be aware of the law around mental health – with a high potential for discrimination charges if employees aren’t treated fairly.

She said: “The law is simple: if you treat someone less favourably that you would others, and you do that because of their mental ill-health, or because of something arising from it, you are discriminating against them.

“And, if you apply policies or criteria or practices that disadvantage colleagues with mental ill-health, you are discriminating against them. If you allow other colleagues to engage in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual, then you are harassing your employee. 

“The most common mistakes we see, I am afraid, are borne of good old-fashioned ignorance, combined with an equally unhealthy dose of assumption.”

So, for employees that do need consideration due to ongoing mental health conditions, Evans concludes: “Chances are they don’t want to be singled out for brain chemistry.”

Therefore, companies shouldn’t do make them feel different – or, like a burden. Awareness and sensitivity, it appears, are the most important factors to manage this part of the work force.

Shared from HR Grapevine