Current Legal and Practical State of Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health courses may be the key to improving employee well-being. Mental health in the workplace is a growing concern for employees, employers, and the government. According to a 2019 report, about 39% of UK employees experienced poor mental health related to work the previous year.

Part of the problem stems from the confusion surrounding employer responsibilities. Employers and employees may not fully understand the current legal protections for people with mental illness.

Along with the legal aspect of mental illness in the workplace, there is the practical side. What can an employer do to accommodate employees with mental health issues?

Awareness of mental health issues has risen. However, most employers still do not acknowledge the adverse impact the workplace can have on the health of employees. Many employers also fail to understand how to deal with mental health.

Let’s take a closer look at the current legal and practical state of mental health in the UK workplace.

Legal Requirements Related to Mental Health in the UK

Workplace health and safety laws in the UK state that employers have a duty of care. Employers are required to provide workers with a reasonably safe work environment and frequently carry out risk assessments.

Employers must also protect staff from discrimination due to a disability, which can include mental health issues. However, for a mental health issue to be considered a disability it needs to meet all the following criteria:

  • The issue must last at least 12 months
  • The issue must affect the employee’s ability to handle normal day-to-day activities
  • The issue must have a substantial adverse effect on the life of the employee

The Equality Act 2010 includes “mental impairments” as disabilities that are protected against discrimination. The law requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to remove disadvantages suffered by a disabled worker compared to a nondisabled worker.

Employee Rights for Mental Health Issues

Employees have the right to a safe and healthy work environment. This includes an environment that is free from discrimination, including discrimination against mental health issues.

Employers must not discriminate against employees due to disabilities. They must also consider making any reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabilities.

A worker that suffers from a mental health issue may need simple changes to their working arrangements and responsibilities. For example, an employer may allow the person to take additional rest breaks or help prioritise their workload to eliminate additional stress.

If an employee feels that they are suffering an unfair disadvantage in the workplace due to their disability, they should work with their employer to find practical solutions.

Reasonable Adjustments to Workplace Activities

Solutions for promoting a better work environment for those with disabilities may require changes to normal activities. A reasonable adjustment is a change that helps employees with disabilities perform their jobs. This may include changes to the workplace environment and changes to the way things are done.

For example, an employee who requires a wheelchair may need a parking space close to the entrance. This is a change in the work environment. A person that suffers from severe anxiety may need the ability to stop work when experiencing a panic attack. This is a change in the way things are done.

Employers are legally required to consider adjustments when any of the following occur:

  • The employer knows that an employee has a disability
  • An employee with a disability requests an adjustment
  • An employee with a disability is struggling to perform their duties
  • An employee’s absences are linked to their disability

The employer and the employee should work together to consider any reasonable adjustments that may improve work conditions. An adjustment is considered reasonable when:

  • It will reduce disadvantages due to a disability
  • The change is practical for the employer to implement
  • The adjustment is affordable by the employer
  • Not making a change may harm the health or safety of others

If the requested adjustment meets one of these requirements, the employer has a responsibility to consider making the change.

Examples of Reasonable Adjustments to Work

What types of changes can employers make to accommodate disabilities? There are many examples of accommodations for physical disabilities, such as adding handicap accessible parking spaces. However, many employers struggle to understand how to address mental health issues.

The changes depend on the situation and the concerns of the employee. Some employees may feel more comfortable with a phased return to work. For example, the employee may return with reduced hours or lighter job duties.

Depending on the situation, an employee may also need adjustments to their work routine or workspace. Employers may alter the employee’s break schedule, offer time for therapy appointments, or create a quieter work environment. In some cases, employees with mental health concerns may require changes to supervisory methods, such as written instructions instead of verbal ones.

It is up to the employer to determine if the changes are practical. Employers may also consider receiving professional advice to determine what adjustments are needed. To receive help, employers and employees often choose to bring in an occupational health advisor to complete a health assessment.

Occupational health advisors are frequently used when an employee returns to work after a long absence. The advisor carries out an assessment of the employee to address their needs.

Unlike a doctor’s medical report, a health assessment focuses on how the employee does their job and how the job may affect the health of the employee. The employer then considers the recommendations of the health advisor and the medical report.

What Can an Employee Do When Discriminated Against?

Failing to consider reasonable adjustments for a person with a mental health disability is a form of discrimination. Many employees suffering from mental illness also suffer from indirect discrimination. This occurs when the company policies or practices place the disabled worker at an unfair disadvantage.

These issues are typically resolved through a direct discussion with the employer. If the employee still believes that they were treated unfairly by an employer due to a disability, a formal grievance should be filed.

Practical Steps for Creating a Supportive Work Environment

Employers do not need to wait for an employee to disclose a mental health issue to start creating a more supportive environment. There are practical steps that are encouraged for promoting a healthier workplace:

  • Training on mental health issues
  • Access to counselling services
  • Using positive language during meetings
  • Seeking advice from mental health professionals
  • Fostering greater openness to reduce the stigma of mental illness
  • Reviewing company policies to accommodate disabilities

Creating a supportive workplace helps make people with disabilities feel more comfortable, allowing them to remain productive members of the workforce. Employees should be able to talk openly and freely about mental health without the stigma typically associated with it.

How to Promote Better Mental Health in the Workplace

As part of their requirement to offer a safe and healthy environment, employers should strive to promote better mental well-being. This often requires a combination of:

  • Understanding mental health and its impact on work outcomes
  • Adopting mental health strategies and workplace policies
  • Educating staff to create a more supportive work environment

Mental health courses can assist with these steps. Suitable training may include:

  • Awareness of first aid for mental health
  • First aid for mental health
  • Supervising first aid for mental health

With the right training, employers and employees can learn how to address mental health in the workplace.

Completing a mental health awareness course provides attendees with the knowledge required to recognise various mental health conditions. You also learn how to start a conversation about mental health with employees and address workplace issues that may promote stress.

There are also more in-depth training courses, such as First Aid for Mental Health. This course covers mental health awareness along with the steps needed for developing a first aid action plan. Supervisors may benefit from the supervising course, which includes additional topics related to mental health in the workplace.

Supervisors may want to explore the signs of self-harm, stress, eating disorders, personality disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder, and other common mental health issues. Identifying these signs can help employers provide employees with the support they need.

Last Thoughts on the State of Mental Health in the Workplace

Employees that suffer from disabilities have the right to a safe and healthy workplace, the same as employees without disabilities. Mental impairments, which can include various mental health issues, count as disabilities.

Employers should consider adopting work policies and practices that treat mental health and physical health evenly.

As part of an employer’s duty to offer a healthy work environment, every business has an obligation to reasonably accommodate employees with mental health issues. This may include making simple changes to the workplace or the way employees work.

The most common change is adjustments to the work schedule. Some employees may benefit from reduced hours, different shifts, or a modified routine.

Training can also help foster a more supportive environment. By completing mental health courses, employees and supervisors can discover the skills and knowledge needed to address mental illness in the workplace.

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