Mental Health concerns

Following World Mental Health Day (10th October) – and Government's Department of Health advising that one in four individuals will experience mental ill health at some point in their lives – employers should understand how vital it is to promote positive mental health, recognise warning signs and support staff experiencing concerns.

According to Acas, the estimated cost of mental ill health to UK employers each year is between £33 billion and £42 billion.

Additionally, a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study highlighted the impact that mental ill health can have on organisations. It found that:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks
  • 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.

Recognising mental health issues is the first step when managing staff suffering with mental health illnesses. It is important to remember that whilst ‘work-related stress’ itself is not classed as a disability – depression and anxiety being the common symptoms of stress – it is often considered so under the Equality Act 2010.

A disability can be a mental impairment under the Act if:

  • It is long term (likely to last more than 12 months);
  • It has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Employers also often forget there are health and safety laws which dictate how mental health illnesses are dealt with in the workplace.

All employers have a common law duty to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees – they should see that reasonable care is taken to provide safety in the workplace, safe tools and equipment, and a safe system for roles to be carried out.

In addition, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 imposes a general duty on employers to ensure – so far as is reasonably practicable – the health, safety and welfare at work for all their employees.

Carrying out risk assessments, offering employee assistance, occupational health assessments and strong policies into how the company deals with mental health concerns, are all ways in which employers can minimise the risk of any claims.

Other practical options are:

  • Flexible working – whether changing start and finish times or remote/home-working opportunities
  • Changes to the workspace – for example, having quieter areas, using dividing screens or providing a desk by a window for natural light
  • Changes to break times
  • And, allowing time-off to attend therapy or counselling sessions.

Changes to the employee's role – on a temporary or permanent basis – can include:

  • Temporary change to duties – for example, adjusting shift patterns, reducing caseloads, decreasing customer-facing work
  • Reallocation of some of the employee's tasks or amending an employee's job description or duties
  • And, redeployment to a more suitable role.

Further support in their role could include:

  • Increased supervision or support by manager, buddy or mentor
  • Debriefing sessions after certain tasks
  • Access to a mental health support group
  • And, identifying a ‘safe space’ where employees can take time out, when needed.

By considering the above options, employers will be able to demonstrate that they have given serious thought as to how to provide reasonable adjustments for staff affected by mental health illnesses.

Additionally, it allows employees to have all the necessary tools to carry out their roles – or indeed the opportunity to decide whether their roles are suitable, given their condition.


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Author: Rafia Ahmad

Senior Solicitor, ESP Law Ltd

Rafia trained and qualified with Wedlake Bell LLP, a London City law firm where she was an employment solicitor for six years before moving to the fast paced trading floor of Cantor Fitzgerald LLP, a London based New York prime brokerage/investment bank as in-house employment counsel. Prior to joining ESP, Rafia was a senior employment solicitor for five years with Backhouse Jones, the UK’s number one national road transport law firm. She advises on all employment matters both contentious and non-contentious including tribunal proceedings.

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