Mental health at work

Written by Martha Mitchell
8 October, 2021

Mental health at work

All employers know that disabilities are serious and if not dealt with properly can be expensive. Mental health in the workplace can have a huge impact on employees and businesses alike.  As with any form of illness, it is always beneficial to identify and resolve the causes of mental health issues as soon as possible.  Burnout is often a key indicator of poor mental health and we recommend that employers assess employees for signs of burnout, our useful Burnout Guide can help with this.

By identifying poor mental health at work, employees and employers can benefit from some huge positives. Employees will feel cared for by their employer and it may be that any deterioration in their ill-health can be prevented.  Employers will find they have increased staff loyalty, reduced absence levels, and sick pay bills.

Problems often arise around mental health in the workplace as they are not always perceived as a disability but they certainly can be

What is a disability?

A disability is defined in section 6(1) Equality Act 2010 as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

There are various aspects to the disability definition, the first aspect is whether or not there is a physical or mental impairment, it is worth noting however that an impairment does not need to be a diagnosable illness.  

An impairment will meet the required standard if it meets the following criteria: 

  • Long term?

The law requires that an impairment must last at least 12 months, or, be likely to last 12 months, or that it could return if it is in remission. During the term of the impairment, there can be fluctuations in its effect, the symptoms that present, or when the impairment has an impact at different times.

  • A substantial adverse effect?

This cannot simply be a comparison between the ill employee and the healthy one.  We need to look at what the employee cannot do, for example, an employee with anxiety may not be suitable to hold presentations or group meetings but they can still perform many other tasks. The law requires us to take into account a variety of factors including the environment, the effect on the employee, and the cumulative effects of the impairment.

  • Day–to–day activities?

There is no exhaustive list that the law requires employers to use here, an element of discretion is granted, but we must enquire into a range of day–to–day activities, for example, shopping, sleeping, standing, playing sports, bending, or lifting. Questions should be geared towards the usual activities of the employee, you wouldn’t ask them if they can play rugby if they never have.

How can you know the impact of an illness?

With the consent of the employee, you can approach their GP  and ask for a medical report or arrange for an occupational health review which can assist in understanding the impact of the illness. Be sure to follow your capability procedures and treat the employee fairly and with a degree of compassion throughout the process, especially if they have been absent from work.

Reasonable management adjustments to support Mental Health at work

Even where an employee’s mental health condition does not amount to a disability,  adjustments should be made to their role to suit their mental health needs. The idea behind making reasonable adjustments is to make their work-life better, make them more efficient and reduce the number of days they have off sick.

Reasonable adjustments can range widely and examples can include:

    •     Change of shifts or hours
    •     Change of job roles
    •     Reduction in targets
    •     Reorganising the pattern of a normal workday
    •     Using headphones to block out distracting noises
    •     Providing training, support, or supervision as well as time off for medical assistance
    •     Modification or internal procedures
    •     Introducing a phased return to work
    •     Making alterations to work environments

Any changes that are requested by an employee to assist them in their role should be considered but only reasonable changes need to be implemented. In determining whether an adjustment is reasonable, employers should take into account: medical advice (if it has been sought); the employee’s views; the cost of the adjustment; the size and resources of the business, and the business needs. 

Employees can bring a claim in the employment tribunal for their employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments to their role and so, therefore, any decision not to implement any adjustment should be properly explained to the employee and documented. 

Employee Burnout

Mental ill-health is a concern for all businesses and it is always better to identify and resolve concerns earlier, Employment Law Solution’s Burnout Guide will help you identify and manage early signs of some mental ill-health.

Failing to acknowledge mental ill-health as a serious concern can have huge implications for a business.  Ultimately, employees who suffer a detriment, from less favourable treatment to dismissal, because of their mental ill-health may have the ability to bring claims in the employment tribunal, for example, disability discrimination or constructive dismissal. When considering how to deal with employees who have poor mental or physical health you should always take advice and consider your obligations to them.

Employment Law Solutions

Employment Law Solutions offer Employment Law advice and HR advice to businesses across the UK. We offer 24/7, 365 guidance providing stress-free, pragmatic solutions to your problems. Our mission is to help you concentrate on what you do best – running your business. Protecting your business will always be our main priority.

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