Today is world mental health awareness day, so we thought now is a great time to provide the answers to (SOME OF) our most frequently asked tricky HR questions relating to mental health!
Of course, everyone’s circumstances are different and we would always encourage employers to speak to us to gain some specific advice when they have an employee who is struggling with their mental health.
We deal with this every day, so we know how to handle these tricky HR issues in a way that keeps both employee wellbeing and protecting your business at the forefront.
1. I have an employee who is signed off work with ‘work-related stress’, Am I allowed to contact them?
Absolutely, the first thing you should be doing is trying to arrange a meeting with them to discuss what the issues are, especially when it has come as a shock. This can happen whilst they are off sick and we’d always recommend working with them to arrange a location that they are comfortable for the meeting to happen in. This can be over the phone too.
Communication is a two-way street and its really important for employees to cooperate with employers, even when they are signed off work.
It is also crucial to get the balance right, you don’t want to be seen to be acting in a way that constitutes harassment and after all, there is a reason that they are unfit to work, however you should always maintain open communication.
2. Is stress a disability?
No, stress alone is not a ‘protected characteristic’ for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
You can’t discriminate against someone because they are stressed however stress is often not unaccompanied. Often, we find that stress-related symptoms present where the employee has another health condition that IS a disability.
3. Should we still follow our sickness absence procedure when someone is off work due to mental health?
Yes, mental health should be approached in the same way as visible illnesses. It’s important to be sensitive and to speak openly with the employee regarding adjustments that they may need to the process, for example they may need to bring a family member or friend with them to the meetings.
As with a visible illness, if it is something long-standing that you think may classify as a disability, you should consider discounting some sickness days the purpose of absence management, for example, the Bradford score. However, for short-term mental health illness, this can be treated in the same way as absence due to other illness.
You should always seek advice when there is persistent or long-term absence.
4. Can I proceed with a disciplinary with an employee that has cited that they are struggling with mental health?
Yes, however, we would always recommend that you work with them to make any necessary adjustments to the process, for example allowing them to submit a written statement in addition to attending a face to face hearing, and also consider when deciding on any potential sanction, whether their health contributed to the misconduct.
5. What can I do to take a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace?
Its always beneficial to stay on top of your appraisals and one-to-one meetings, preferably always in a private space. Ensure that employees get some confidential time to discuss with their manager if they are having any issues as it can be really hard for people to find the right time to approach someone about how they are feeling.
In some environments, this can be difficult, however, having a mental health policy in place is also very important. The policy should set out who employees should talk to if they need some support, this doesn’t need to be their manager.
Having a member of staff who is a Mental Health First Aider is hugely beneficial, again, this doesn’t need to be someone in a management position.
The course enables delegates to spot signs of mental health struggles meaning when employees are necessarily forthcoming, this person is more likely to spot when someone isn’t ok. It also means that if you have someone with a mental health condition in your workplace and they need urgent assistance, the mental health first aider will be able to assist them as the first point of contact.
Mental health training amongst employees is also super beneficial, its not just the responsibility of management to take care towards mental health issues, but it’s the responsibility of staff too. To put things bluntly, employers be vicariously liable for the actions of your employees whilst they are acting in the course of their employment, so providing your managers or staff with training can provide them with the necessary skills to take a proactive approach to mental health and also help to minimise risk of a claim against the business.
Also, business owners and managers need to remember that they are setting an example to new starters, so the right message needs to be communicated from the point of induction that employees within your business are to look out for each other and to alert management if they suspect someone is struggling.
How can we help you?
Our Mental Health First Aid training is brought to you in collaboration with Mental Health First Aid England and Rotherham & Barnsley MIND. Our unique training course includes HR and Managers Resources to take away and implement within your organisation. If you would like to find out more about this course please contact [email protected]
If you have any HR queries about Mental Health in the workplace please contact our HR team today by callimg 0114 3032300.