Disability discrimination law and employee wellbeing – can you manage both?

Law firm Kemp Little shares insights on growing trends, and tips on how to mitigate the risks of a challenging mental health scenario occurring in the workplace.

One in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, but only one in eight adults with a mental health problem are currently receiving treatment, says law firm Kemp Little.

In spite of growing awareness and an increase in the number of reported incidents of people having a mental health episode while in employment, 63% of businesses say that more knowledge of both the business case and Duty of Care is needed for them to manage mental health issues in the workplace effectively.

Mental health is a sensitive and nuanced subject and not an easy one to manage at any level of an organisation. It is often impossible to tell that someone has mental health challenges unless they have previously disclosed or until a situation arises.

Employees often only raise mental health issues with their employer during a formal disciplinary or performance procedure, and frequently cite their mental health as the reason for the alleged misconduct or poor performance, creating a tricky path for employers to navigate.

>See also: 39% of employers fail to offer mental health support

What do you do?

In terms of managing mental health issues generally, Kathryn Dooks, a partner in the employment team at Kemp Little, recommends employers take note of the Stevenson/Farmer Thriving at Work report: a review of mental health and employees  published in 2017, which advises organisations to:

  • Create a Mental Health at Work action plan
  • Make sure that workers know about mental health
  • When workers are finding things hard, give them the chance to talk about mental health and the help and support they can get
  • Make sure workers have control and a sense of purpose about their work
  • Make sure managers and supervisors manage people properly
  • Make regular checks on workers’ mental health and wellbeing

In addition, many firms take organisation-wide branded approaches which might include:

  • Flexible working
  • Line manager training
  • Workshops/seminars
  • Engagement and communication
  • Evaluating ROI

Marian Bloodworth, also a partner in the Employment team at Kemp Little, observes that when a challenging situation arises, most HR professionals or people managers will revert to their company’s policies and core values along with the legal frameworks (Common Law, Health & Safety at work, Equality Act, Employment Rights Act). However, it can sometimes be challenging to decide how best to balance the needs of the individual and business against these company values and legal frameworks.

There are small steps an organisation can take to help mitigate the risk of an individual’s mental health becoming an issue at work.

Kemp Little has some top tips on how businesses can help to manage and support good mental health in the workplace.

Watch out for early signs of mental health issues:

  • Concerns from colleagues and/or clients and customers
  • Changes in behaviour or approach to work
  • Psychological symptoms – anxiety or distress, mood changes, indecisions, loss of motivation, loss of humour, increased sensitivity, distraction or confusion and memory lapses
  •  Behavioural symptoms – withdrawal from office life, irritability, over-excitement, lateness, working far longer hours, obsessive activity, uncharacteristic errors, risk-taking and disruptive behaviour
  • Physical symptoms – fatigue, appetite changes and visible tension

Implement an effective strategy for promoting wellbeing – prevention before cure:

  • Undertake a risk assessment of potential work-related causes of mental health issues in your organisation
  • Encourage the use of mental health well-being plans for staff across all levels of the business
  • Identify training needs for line managers to spot and deal with issues
  • Create internal support networks where issues can be discussed openly
  • Ensure that any strategy has senior management buy-in and consider appointing mental health champions (ideally someone at a senior level)

Implement initiatives to support staff who are or may be experiencing mental health challenges, such as:

  • Agree on personal mental health management plans
  • Identify sources of support, whether internal (e.g. a buddy system) or external (such as EAP, financial support for counselling)
  • Make use of flexible absence policies
  • Speak to Mind and other organisations for guidance and advice
  • Return to work meetings and keeping in regular contact

For more information, get in touch with Marian Bloodworth or Kathryn Dooks at Kemp Little LLP

>See also: Big or small be mindful of good mental health wellbeing in the workplace