Employer Duty of Care and Mental Health Support

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the importance of mental health and duty of care clearer than ever, with businesses across every sector updating and enhancing the support they provide to their employees.

If you’re looking to do the same, we’ve put together some tips on how to make mental health support a priority within your organisation.


Types of mental health conditions

Mental health issues can take many forms, some of which can be difficult to spot. That’s why a business must have in place a strong mental health support programme that’s designed around the needs of every member of staff.

Common examples of mental health issues include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Eating disorders
  • Stress, which is one of the most widespread mental health issues faced by employees in every sector and in any role


Duty of care and the law

Duty of care is a legal requirement of all employers, which means that any and all reasonable practices and actions should be in place to protect workers in regard to health, safety and wellbeing. For instance, an organisation should have active and ingoing systems that ensure the following:

  • All working environments promote and maintain high levels of health and safety
  • All staff should be protected against discrimination, which includes mental health conditions
  • Risk assessments need to be carried out regularly and any shortfalls rectified immediately


Preventing discrimination in the workplace

Under the Equality Act 2010, a mental health issue can be considered a disability. This is the case when all of the following apply:

  • It has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the life of an employee (for example, they find it difficult to concentrate and may take longer than others to carry out a particular task)
  • It lasts at least 12 months, or is expected to last this long
  • It affects their ability to carry out everyday activities, such as interacting with people, following instructions or maintaining set working hours) 

These symptoms don’t necessarily have to be visible at all times in order for the individual to still be considered as having a disability. In fact, many people with the mental health conditions listed above will have good days and bad days just like anyone else, which makes it even more crucial that employers don’t commit discrimination as a result of making assumptions.


What to do if an employee has a mental health disability

As with physical disabilities, any member of staff with a mental health disability has to be treated equally and fairly. The employer must ensure that they are not discriminated against and that reasonable adjustments are made where appropriate, such as:

  • Allocating them additional and/or longer breaks
  • Offering more individual support or one-to-one sessions
  • Helping them to prioritise their workload or delegate if suitable to their role
  • Communicating through their preferred method as much as possible, such as email, phone call, video call, instant messenger or face-to-face, which itself could be in a communal environment or in private


Ways to support mental health

The key takeaway is to treat physical health and mental wellbeing as equally important factors across your workforce. If you would like further guidance, we recently shared some suggestions for supporting mental health in the workplace and nurturing a positive work environment. You can find these tips here.

Posted: Mon 13 Sep 2021
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