Protecting employee mental health and wellbeing

Posted: Tuesday April 12 2022

By: Banner Jones Solicitors

Protecting the mental health and workplace wellbeing of employees - more than just a workplace perk

Protecting employee mental health and wellbeing

Katie Ash, Head of Employment Law at Banner Jones Solicitors.

As such a large part of an employee’s life is spent at work, it’s important that employers play an active role in ensuring that their workers develop and maintain good mental wellbeing and a healthy relationship with their place of work.

This is particularly important post-pandemic, when it is widely acknowledged that employees’ health has suffered because of lockdowns, job uncertainty, and the mandate to work from home. Protecting lone workers mental health is also key.

After all, healthy and well-motivated employees will have an equally positive impact on the productivity and effectiveness of a business!

Every mind matters

Firstly, it’s important to stress that mental illness is a protected characteristic in the same way as a physical disability. In the event mental illness and mental health issues impact the individual to the extent that it becomes a disability under the Equality Act 2010, a business must do all that is practicably possibly to adapt the individual’s working environment, roles and responsibilities to better meet their needs. Failing to do so will result in a breach of the Equality Act 2010 and could land you in hot water.

This may seem like a very fair and practical approach in cases where an employee has flagged an issue, or an employer knows enough about the individual’s condition to believe that they would fall within the remit of the Equality Act 2010. However, we’re seeing more cases where employers simply ‘suspect’ something isn’t right – and are less confident about what to do.

Managing mental health problems

Recognising the potential trigger points for mental ill health and keeping communication lines open between line manager and employee is important. Anyone who is displaying unusual behaviour – such as regularly arriving late, increased problems with their physical health, getting upset or struggling to keep up with the job demands – may appreciate a friendly ear. Training for your senior leaders and your line managers can help in those situations. It’s also important to monitor behaviour that may pose a risk to the individual themselves, or others. At that point, employers have a legal duty to step in.

Simple steps may include keeping an eye on staff workloads to ensure that they do not become too heavy, schedule in regular one-to-one sessions, and tailor your management style to suit the varying needs and personalities of employees.

Encouraging flexible working and a healthy work-life balance

Work can be stressful and the competitive, faced-paced nature of many industries is a definite contributor. When devising a strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of staff, encouraging requests for a flexible working approach to working and a more favourable work-life balance may be something to consider.

Making sure that your employees feel like they work in a caring and understanding workplace will often reduce stress levels and improve employee morale and employee engagement. This generally leads to fewer sick days, greater employee productivity and quality of work and increased enthusiasm.

Change for the better

A conversation about what changes can be made to remove any workplace problems might resolve the matter, however, if this still doesn’t resolve matters, seek professional advice on the best course of action to protect both the business and the welfare of the individual. Changes might include a better balance between office and remote working, or a change in the office environment could be considered, such as adding more natural light. We know that dealing with these matters can put additional pressure on a business, especially where there isn’t a dedicated HR team or the team is small.

It’s important to remember that you have a duty of care to employees, especially where their challenges are caused by work-related stress. With the right care, employees can return to a compassionate office environment, which is in everyone’s best interests.

Promoting health and wellbeing initiatives at work

With people becoming more conscious than ever around mental health and general wellbeing, employers who acknowledge this as part of the package they offer often secure the best candidates.

From private healthcare, to outdoor activities encouraging physical wellness, there is a myriad of ‘perks’ or wellbeing programs available that can be introduced. These programs not only improve staff wellbeing, leading to healthier employees, but they also help to demonstrate that you are going the extra mile and taking actions to alleviate workplace stresses.

Employment law

In 2005, the government first introduced a ‘health, work and wellbeing initiative’ which outlined a comprehensive strategy for protecting and promoting the health and wellbeing of those in employment.

From a legal perspective, employment law surrounding health and wellbeing in the workplace can overlap with HR functions, but the key areas would include:

  • A safe and supportive working environment;
  • A workplace free from bullying and harassment;
  • A defined job role and clear responsibilities;
  • Appraisals, feedback and development programs

As an employer, you must recognise the needs of the business as well as the rights of employees when faced with a case relating to employee health and wellbeing. Remember, if employees have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and are being treated unfairly because of this, they may be able to raise a claim for discrimination in the Employment Tribunal.

It’s important to note that the level of compensation in these types of claims is uncapped / unlimited, so it’s important to seek advice in relation to this as soon as possible.

For support and guidance with devising a health and wellbeing strategy in your workplace to ensure your employees feel fully supported and a positive employee-employer relationship is maintained, get in touch with Banner Jones Solicitors – our expert Employment Law team are on hand to provide legal advice across the spectrum.