Cultivating a positive attitude to mental health at work

Posted on July 4, 2019
Posted by Claire Woolf

Creating a positive workplace environment for employees dealing with mental health issues can be as simple as encouraging them to discuss any health concerns with, say, their manager or the Head of HR. Opening lines of discreet communication is a crucial element in helping struggling employees.

It might also be beneficial to provide training to managers on how to look out for, and sensitively deal with, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. In this way mental health can be managed properly at work and staff will be more aware of the correct process to follow.

When a staff member calls in sick due to their mental health, you should follow your standard sick leave policies and procedures. If they have been off work for a period of a week or more, you should also arrange a back-to-work meeting. Note that if your staff member reports that an illness is a result of workplace bullying or working culture, you will likely have to treat the staff member’s comments as a grievance and follow formal grievance procedures.

While your staff members are off sick, you should pay them in accordance with any enhanced sick pay regime your company has in place. If you do not have such a policy, your company may still have to pay your staff members statutory sick pay — ie the legally-enforced minimum level of sick pay, currently £94.25 — if they meet certain criteria.

If a staff member begins to take frequent or long-term sick leave due to mental health, then this may indicate that their mental illness qualifies as a disability. A disability can be anything that has a substantial and long-term effect on the individual’s ability to carry out daily activities. If a staff member is disabled, you must consider making reasonable adjustments to their working conditions. Depending on the nature of their mental health issue, reasonable adjustments may include extra break periods, home working, reduced hours, or changed working processes (eg less time spent on a computer).

As an absolute last resort, dismissing a staff member who is on long-term sick leave may be an option. However it is a high-risk strategy, with wrongful dismissal or discrimination claims often resulting in very high payouts. It is far better to try to rehabilitate a staff member by considering alternatives to dismissal and taking all steps possible to avoid it.


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