Nikki Duncan
Posted on 15 May 2018

Managing mental health issues in the workplace

Employees with mental health problems costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year, a review commissioned by Theresa May has found.

The Thriving at Work report highlights that the above figure is constituted of the cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover. Understandably, due to the lack of available data, the report has not taken into consideration the costs of liability claims from employees with mental health conditions.

The failure to spot a problem at an early stage can lead to absenteeism, time spent on absence management procedures, an increase in Employment Tribunal claims and associated financial and reputation costs to the employer.

Before looking at the legal perspective around metal health, below are a set of 'core standards' that the Thriving at Work report recommends that all employers should implement in order to reduce the impact of mental health problems in the workplace:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan that promotes good mental health of all employees, and outlines the support available for those who may need it;
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees by making information, tools and support accessible;
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
  4. Provide employees with good working conditions, and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development;
  5. Promote effective management to ensure that all employees have a regular conversation about their health and well-being with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader, train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices; and
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees and understanding risk factors.

Legal perspective around mental health in the workplace

Employers have a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their staff, and this includes taking reasonable care to prevent employees from developing mental illness as a result of workplace stress. For instance, if an employee suffers from a mental illness, caused by workplace stress and their employer knew of their condition and failed to act, there is a possibility that the employee will be able to bring a personal injury claim against the employer.

The law also prohibits employers from discriminating against staff on the grounds of their disability. Some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can constitute disability under the Equality Act 2010, if they have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the employee's ability to carry out normal day to day activities. From a legal perspective, it is important to note that it is also unlawful to discriminate against those who are wrongly perceived to be disabled or because of their association with a disabled person. Therefore, discrimination against an employee who is wrongly perceived to be suffering from a mental illness would be unlawful.

The Equality Act 2010 also requires that employers make reasonable adjustments to accommodate needs of a disabled employee. Reasonable adjustments can vary depending on the mental health diagnoses of an individual employee and may include allowing employees time off work to attend counselling sessions.

Therefore, it is paramount that employers are aware of their legal obligations and how to best deal with and support employees who are suffering from mental health conditions. Creating a supportive and inclusive workplace environment can only lead to a positive outcome for both employers and employees.  

For more information, please contact Nikki Duncan or the Employment team.