Mental Health in the Workplace – What are the Legal Responsibilities?

” … one of the major issues is that a lot of frontline managers do not realise that mental health/illness can actually be a disability in the workplace … “

Watch, listen or read the discussion below.

 

Joanne Boyle, Legal Director, Employment Law Team at FootAnstey LLP talks to Cheryl Stapleton, Head of Content at Truthsayers®.

In this episode from Truthsayers Neurocast™ we talk to law firm, FootAnstey LLP about where employers stand legally when it comes to managing mental health in the workplace.

 

FootAnstey run a management development programme working with leaders to help them recognise problems and know their legal responsibilities.  Find out how FootAnstey can help your organisation manage corporate wellbeing:  People Lab: Management Development and Corporate Wellbeing

 

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Cheryl Stapleton: Jo, you’re an employment solicitor at Footanstey and you deal with a lot of legal cases around mental health issues that come up within employment. Dealing with mental health in the workplace – where should employers be thinking about this in terms of their scale of what’s important?

Jo Boyle: Well, it’s absolutely hugely important. I mean, the HSE has reported that stress in the workplace is one of the biggest threats to organisations in the 21st century. And that was before the pandemic hit us. When you look at statistics, now, the Office for National Statistics have compared self-evidenced depression, pre-pandemic, and post pandemic. Pre-pandemic, it was one in ten workers, and now it’s one in five.

If you look at the five year period, from the last reported employment tribunal statistics, we know that disability discrimination claims have increased by 263%, over a five year period, and again, that was pre-pandemic, the average cost of a tribunal award for Disability Discrimination was just over £27,000. That’s the mean average and the highest award in the last reported year for Disability Discrimination was in excess of £265,000.

We are getting queries and needing to give support to companies where it’s very clear that their employees are struggling. And if you don’t deal with it in the right way, you can end up dealing with reactive grievances, reactive problems in the workplace. Whereas if you put in place the right measures at ground level, then you can actually nip in the bud issues before they arise. And I think looking at what Neurotech does, this is where I think it’s really really important, because Neurotech does surveys with neuro-psychological techniques to really understand how people are feeling. It manages to get their unconscious reactions – the truth – before people have the ability to use their logical brain to get the answers that they feel they should be given. It’s vital for an organisation to really understand how the organisation is faring, so that it can move forward and put in place impactful management development programmes to ensure that the frontline managers are fully equipped. And I think that’s where there’s a brilliant collaboration between Footanstey’s Management Development Programmes and your Neurotech technology.

CS: Absolutely. I think the difficulty with mental health issues is that people don’t talk about it, and it’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about. And from an employer’s point of view, it’s how do you begin those conversations?

JB: When I go into organisations, I work with frontline managers, I find that they are incredibly open to being provided with tools so they can do the right thing. Quite often, managers are striving to do the right thing, but they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to deal best with a silent employee, or an emotional employee, they don’t realise that mental health may actually become or be a disability in accordance with the Equality Act, they don’t realise the extent of reasonable adjustments. So by using Neurotech, to have a snapshot of where an organisation is, and then putting in place frontline management development programmes, you can really make a cultural impact, but isn’t just a training session that actually takes forward the right culture going forward. And what I’m very excited about is then having Neurotech going in a year later, or regular intervals, to do further monitoring to actually really see whether there is change and where those changes need to be going forward based on the truth, as opposed to your typical employment surveys, where people just tick what they think they need to do. And I think the most important thing an organisation can do is to understand its people. And once it understands its people, it’s putting in place a culture, as you say, where people feel free to be able to talk about mental health. And the most important thing a manager can do is hold regular one to ones with the direct reports that they manage. And what I mean by a one to one is where you take someone into a room, and you are three simple questions: How are you? Any issues I need to be aware of? Any support you need for me? And so by using Neurotech, by getting a snapshot of where an organisation is, and then carrying that forward with management development, and a regular system of one to ones, you will actually find that not only will you be reducing legal risk, you will actually enhance performance across the board.

CS: You talk about putting measures in place, what are reasonable adjustments? How would you define that?

JB: It’s tricky, but it’s always fact sensitive, but at the end of the day, it’s looking at what you can practically do to alleviate the disadvantage that a disabled person is struggling with in the workplace. And that isn’t just about cost – quite often employers will say, “Oh, it’s far too expensive”, but cost is only one factor. You need to look at the resources that an organisation has got, what external support is there available, but it could be things like reducing excessive performance targets, it could be reduced hours, it could be working at different times, it could be additional breaks. There’s all sorts of reasonable adjustments and when I work with frontline managers, it’s amazing how many of them think that can’t possibly be reasonable. At the end of the day, as MIND states, one in four individuals will suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition in their in their work lives and the more we accept that this is part of normal society, and that people can work, people can deliver, people can exceed expectations with the right support. If you know your organisation. If you invest in your leaders, you will reap the rewards.

 

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