Dealing With Mental Health In The Workplace (Employment Law)
The 9th May 2022 marked the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, with the main theme for this year being loneliness and how this can negatively affect our mental health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, loneliness is a key driver of poor mental health. Some may assume that loneliness is not a problem associated with the workplace, but according to research by Totaljobs, around 60% of employees feel lonely at work, regardless of their occupation. They also found that 68% of those who reported feeling lonely at work said this made them feel increasingly stressed, which, if prolonged, can lead to downstream mental health problems. This is especially so given the rise of home working, meaning that some employees have even less opportunity to mix with others. Furthermore, research by CIPD on absence management confirmed that stress and mental ill-health were among some of the most common causes of long-term absence from work, alongside acute medical conditions, musculoskeletal injuries and back pain. In this article, we will look at how employment law and workplace mental health legislation is applied in the UK and how employers can ensure the mental well-being of their employees in the workplace.
Mental health employment law
According to Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, all employers have a general duty to make sure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees while at work. Importantly, there is no distinction between physical and mental health here. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW Regulations) go beyond this general duty placing specific duties on all employers to:
- Carry out regular workplace assessments to identify risks to health and safety
- Where changes are needed to mitigate risks, employers are required to apply the ‘principles of prevention’ laid out in Schedule 1 (regulation 4) of the regulations. In particular, where risks related to mental health are discovered, the principles of prevention require that employers consider how they can:
- avoid risks
- combat risks at the source
- develop a coherent overall prevention policy spanning technology, organisation of work, working conditions, social relationships and the influence of factors relating to the working environment, and
- provide appropriate instructions to employees regarding mental health risks. Employers are required to provide “comprehensible and relevant information” to employees relating to any specific health and safety risk identified in the assessment process and the measures to be taken.
The MHSW Regulations work both ways, however. It mandates that employees inform their employer about any:
- work situation which, given their training and instruction, the employee reasonably considers represents a serious and immediate danger to health and safety or any
- matter which, given their training and instruction, the employee reasonably considers represents a shortcoming in the employer’s protection arrangements for health and safety.
As we will see in the next section, creating a culture which genuinely encourages the reporting of workplace health and safety risks, including those to mental health, can be invaluable in complying with the MHSW Regulations.
How can employers manage mental health in the workplace?
There is a great deal that employers can do to create a happy and healthy work environment in order to look after mental health in the workplace. Forefront in campaigning for mental health in the workplace is Acas. According to the best practice guide on ‘Promoting positive mental health at work’ published by Acas, employers need to consider four main areas:
- Improving mental health awareness within the organisation, e.g. through regular training and awareness days within the organisation
- Tackling the underlying causes of work-related mental ill-health
- Creating a workplace culture where staff feel able to talk about their mental health and;
- Supporting staff who are experiencing mental ill-health. ,
Ensuring high levels of mental health within any organisation is an ongoing task that requires action on a number of fronts. It is also important that any mental health strategy is regularly reviewed and updated based on lessons learned and the latest best practice. It is imperative that employees feel comfortable and understand how to report any risks to mental health (or any health risk) in the workplace. Ultimately, employees have knowledge and insight that managers may not possess, hence their input should be welcomed and valued.
When it comes to mental health and the modern workplace, employers that prioritise the well-being of their valued employees are increasingly in demand in the jobs market. Prospective employees are looking for employers that invest in supporting mental health at work. Negative reviews placed on websites such as Glassdoor exposing toxic and stressful workplace cultures are noticed and will deter the best job candidates.
Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey. We have a highly experienced team of employment Solicitors who can assist you with any legal matter, including workplace mental health policy and compliance with health and safety regulations. To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.