Is failing to manage effectively your employees’ mental wellbeing at work affecting your bottom line? According to the HSE, the answer is a clear and resounding ‘yes’.

The UK reportedly lost 17 million working days due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021-2022, with an estimated 914,000 workers suffering with work related mental ill health, and this accounting for half of all work related ill health cases. These rates are higher than pre-pandemic levels, and are likely to increase as the cost of living crisis intensifies. Plainly improving employee wellbeing in this area should be a key focus for any business seeking to operate efficiently.

The advice from the HSE is for employers to collaborate with employees and their medical advisers and occupational health to create a healthier workplace, including preventing workload creep, regular rest breaks, ensuring staff take annual leave and creating an open culture in which communication around mental health is encouraged to enable individual issues to be addressed at an early stage.

In more complex cases, ideally what is required is for businesses to engage with individual members of staff to provide tailored solutions. Properly advised, the law around disability discrimination really is an employer’s best friend in this regard. The bar for an employee to meet the legal definition of disability is actually quite low (an employee who has been prescribed medication for anxiety or depression for any significant period of time is likely to meet that definition). However, rather than place unreasonable constraints on employers, the disability discrimination provisions in the Equality Act, when understood and applied properly, provide a helpful roadmap to identifying a tailored solution that can alleviate any disadvantage being suffered by the employee, within the constraints of what the business can reasonably accommodate. The reality is that small, short-term adjustments can make a big difference, particularly if made at an early stage. The knock on effect is reduced sickness absence and dramatically improved employee productivity and retention. It is a win – win.

If you have a complex situation with a particular employee, or you would like some general guidance on managing issues related to employee mental health effectively, please contact Emma Sangeelee or any member of the Employment team. We would be very happy to demystify the law around disability in the workplace as it relates to mental ill health, and give you a feel for how it may be best applied to support your workforce and your bottom line.

Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.

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