Managing mental health in the workplace – common questions answered

Stacey Cox Stacey Cox 13 May 2022

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Stacey Cox, Director & Head of Employment Law & HR Services at Wake Smith Solicitors, looks at some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the issues of mental health in the workplace.

  1. Why is it important to manage mental health in the workplace?

According to mentalhealth.org.uk a 70 million work days are lost due to mental health each year in the UK, costing employers a staggering approximately £2.4 billion a year. It is therefore important to manage mental health issues effectively, not just because of the cost but also for staff wellbeing. If mental health problems are managed correctly with support then absence is less likely.

  1. Can I ask a candidate about their mental health?

In short no. You can ask if a candidate needs any adjustments for attending an interview for example.  Section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 prevents an employer asking about a candidates’ health before a job offer is made.

  1. Once I have made a job offer does a candidate have to tell me if they have suffered with their mental health?

There is nothing legally that requires a candidate to tell you as a potential employer about their mental health. However, it is advisable for all employees to be asked to complete a health questionnaire once the offer of employment has been made. If a condition is not then disclosed, and later it is discovered that the employee misled you then this could potentially be grounds for disciplinary action. However always do get advice as the risk of any discrimination arising from disability claim is high.

  1. What do I do if a candidate tells me on their health questionnaire that they suffer with their mental health?

Speak to the candidate, check if they need any support, or if any reasonable adjustments can be made to assist them in the workplace. Practically, it is not advisable to make any assumptions, as it very well may be the case that someone who suffers with their mental health, has it under control or deploys coping strategies like exercise to help manage their mental health. It is sometimes assumed that because someone has disclosed that they suffer with their mental health that it will affect their ability to do the job. This is usually not the case.

  1. What can we do as an employer to assist employees with mental health in the workplace?

Firstly, it is important to adopt an open culture. There is unfortunately so much stigma associated with mental health conditions, and with nine out of ten people with mental health problems still experiencing stigma and discrimination, it is important to encourage an open and supportive culture. Some employers are putting up posters, and are signing a pledge introduced by the mental health awareness organisation ‘Time to Change’ agreeing to create change in the workplace. This includes agreeing to the Thriving at Work standards set in conjunction with Paul Farmer, MIND CEO. These include:

  • Producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan.
  • Developing mental health awareness amongst employees.
  • Encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.
  • Providing employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development.
  • Promoting effective people management through line managers and supervisors.
  • Routinely monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing.
  1. What can we do if we have provided all the support possible to an employee and they have been absent from work for some time and do not seem to be able to return?

Ensure that your absence management, capability, and disciplinary policies and procedures are all to date. Usually an absence management procedure will provide guidance as to when to conduct welfare meetings, when to obtain a medical report, what to ask a medical practitioner, what to do when that medical report is received, when to arrange a hearing with an employee and how to do so, what to do if you have a private health insurance policy in place and how to deal with Ill health retirement if the pension has such a provision. You should follow your procedures which may ultimately can lead to an employee’s departure from the business if they are unlikely to return.

Our experienced employment team can offer help and assistance in updating polices and procedures, training your managers and senior leaders, and guiding you through any process when dealing with Mental health and other conditions in the workplace.

If you need any help or support contact Stacey Cox at Wake Smith Solicitors on 0114 224 2087.

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