Articles

Published by: Alec Colson

Mental health in the workplace – A legal perspective

The public reaction to the recent Every Mind Matters advertisement endorsed by four members of the Royal Family and numerous celebrities caused the NHS mental health website to crash. The growing awareness of mental health issues is likely to have profound implications for employers as the workplace is one of the main causes of stress and anxiety.

Employers have a common law duty of care for their employees and mental impairment is a form of disability under the Equality Act 2010 so, employers need to be aware of their legal obligations towards their employees in relation to mental health problems.

In the ACAS guide, Promoting Positive Mental Health, it states that it is in the employer’s interest to improve mental health awareness within its organisation, tackle the causes of work related mental ill health and create a workplace culture where staff are able to talk about their mental health as well as support staff who are experiencing mental health problems.

To fulfil these objectives, an employer will need to recognise what mental health is, identify the causes of mental ill health, recognise the stigma associated with mental health and consider how this can be removed from the workplace.

The cost of not addressing mental health issues has the potential to be high given the legal implications.  For example, work related stress could lead to any of the following claims:

  • Personal injury
  • Breach of contract
  • Unfair dismissal
  • Disability discrimination

Mental health issues require sensitive handling and the employer cannot ignore them as it will put them at risk of legal action. As a basic starting point, an employer should have an anti -stress policy which provides advice on the measures that will be taken to monitor and where necessary, to reduce the effects of stress at work. The policy is a positive way of showing that the employer is taking mental health seriously, but in addition to the policy, managers should receive training in relation to implementing the policy in order to raise awareness amongst staff about mental health in the workplace. This should lead to a culture where it is easier to discuss mental health on an employer wide basis and at an individual level.

Where individual problems do arise, it is important for the employer to discuss the matter  with their employee to establish whether the stress is work related and the nature of the condition. The employer may require a medical report from either the employee’s General Practitioner or through an occupational health provider particularly where the employee has been sign off sick with work related stress. The report should then be a discussed with the employee to establish a way forward which may include reasonable adjustments to the employee’s working arrangements for example, by a reduction to their workload or working hours.

Taylor Walton’s Employment  Team is able to provide legal advice and assistance in relation mental health matters in the workplace from drafting anti- stress policies to advising on individual cases.