Tackling the last workplace taboo

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A leading north-east HR and employment law team is fighting the stigma of mental ill health in the workplace.

Elaine Masson, mental health and wellbeing trainer for Empire, said: “An estimated one in six employees experience poor mental health, yet employees may be unwilling to talk about stress, anxiety and depression openly, fearful that their employer may not be supportive.

Increasingly, employees with poor mental health are more likely to attend exhibit ‘presenteeism’ - attending work despite being unwell. This may lead to underperformance and exacerbate the problem for the organisation.

Elaine Masson

“When considering employee physical and mental health, employers must to be mindful of their obligations of a duty of care under health and safety legislation, as well as their legal obligations of the Equality Act.”

Mental ill health may be considered to be a disability if it has a long-term effect on a person’s day-to-day activity. Normal activity is defined as something a worker does every day, for example using a computer or interacting with people.

Whilst many people with a diagnosis of mental ill health can perform at a high level without support, businesses should be aware of potential issues and have in place a risk management approach to support employees and avoid costly discrimination claims, says Mrs Masson.

She said: “Employers should work with mentally and physical health issues in the same way – by agreeing communication arrangements during absence, identifying workplace triggers and agreeing a written plan of reasonable adjustments if necessary. This is particularly important in the case of mental ill health where these agreements can be set up at a time when the employee is well."

mental health

According to NHS figures, almost 50% of long-term absences from work are as a result of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Mrs Masson added: “People with mental health issues often fear that, even if they have made a good recovery, their symptoms will be made worse by going back to work. However, employment is a key aspect of recovery, providing purpose and social contact”.

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