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Mental Health - fostering a healthy work environment

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Saturday 10th October is World Mental Health Day, and this year's theme, set by the World Federation for Mental Health is "mental health for all".

2020 has been a year out of the ordinary, presenting new and difficult challenges, resulting in an environment where many peoples' priorities have shifted.

Good mental health is vital for everyone.  It is as important as physical health and can ensure you live a fulfilled and thriving life, be it your personal life and relationships or career. The far-reaching damaging effects of the pandemic has resulted in a renewed emphasis and priority on mental health and well-being. 

Employers’ priorities have also changed in that they may need to better support their employees, especially with an increasing number working from home.  Therefore now is a great opportunity to review and improve workplace practices to ensure that they are up to date and effective.   

Working from home for some has been a blessing, allowing the opportunity for a better work life balance they may have previously been missing. Sadly, for others the increased time at home may have been and is continuing to be difficult.  It is therefore key for employers to foster and encourage a healthy work environment where employees are able to share how they are feeling thus enabling the employer to provide better support.

Mental health can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages of your life. It is crucial that employers encourage a supportive work environment where communication is key and employees feel comfortable to talk about how they are feeling.

Stress, depression and anxiety are the leading causes of sickness absence and reports have shown that people with mental health problems have experienced discrimination at work. There have been some alarming statistics in respect of this and such illnesses are on the increase.  Therefore an employer’s approach to mental health is vital in creating a caring work environment.

The Law

Employers have a duty of care to their employees to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of their employees. Employers must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.

The ACAS guide on promoting positive mental health at work defines mental health as ‘our emotional, psychological and social well-being.’

Mental health issues can be considered a disability under the law if the following apply:

  • it has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the life of an employee (for example, they regularly cannot focus on a task, or it takes them longer to do)
  • it lasts at least 12 months, or is expected to
  • it affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities (for example, interacting with people, following instructions or keeping to set working times) 

If an employee has a disability, employers must not discriminate against them because of their disability and must consider making reasonable adjustments.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments

Proactive management of employees’ mental and physical health can provide a multitude of benefits and it is in the employers’ best interests to play their part. This is even more prevalent in the current climate as more people may be struggling with the changes of their usual routine and adapting to the ‘new normal’.

The Equality Act 2010 outlines an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities and it is imperative that employers abide by this duty.

Reasonable adjustments are changes that employers can make for their employee if the employee’s disability puts them at a disadvantage compared with others who are not disabled. The change or adjustment will be unique to an employees’ needs that will support them and enable them to do their job.

Common examples can include:

  • Taking a flexible approach to start and finish times or shift patterns
  • Allowing for the possibility to work from home
  • Support with workload i.e. a reduction or extra supervision
  • Reduction in targets
  • Buddy or mentor scheme
  • Job sharing
  • Providing quiet spaces away from the main workplace
  • Workstation aides

In the recent months many employees have been forced to work from home which has had the benefit of showing employers whether this type of arrangement works.  The feedback we have received has been positive in that productivity has increased and has had no detrimental impact on performance. As a result employers may now be more inclined and willing to offer adjustments such as flexible work times or working from home.

Good practice

Here are some steps employers can take to promote good practice and a supportive work environment:

  1. Encourage employees to talk openly about mental health thus avoiding employees keeping problems to themselves which can lead to time off work.  Offer open, honest and practical conversations with employees who raise concerns about their mental health.
  2. Reinforce awareness of mental health in the workplace through training, communication and education.
  3. Ensure that there are clear policies in place outlining the support available and what to do in circumstances where an employee feels their mental health is becoming affected or deteriorating.
  4. Be realistic about the support that can be offered and manage expectations. 
  5. Offer regular reviews of adjustments as it may be that changes do not need to be permanent and are there to support an employee through a difficult period.  

How can Talbots help?

For many employers dealing with employees with mental health issues can be very difficult and at Talbots we encourage employers to seek advice and assistance from the outset. 

Talbots offer a range of services to include creating or amending mental health policies, training and practical advice and assistance on how to resolve a situation and disability discrimination claims.  

Please get in touch with our employment law specialists via email either Reyhana Koser or Ellie Robinson-Brady, alternatively please telephone 0800 118 1500.