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Coping with mental health problems in employees
Among the challenges of employing people, coping with an employee’s mental ill-health is one most of us would prefer to avoid. Yet such ill-health accounts for 28% of illness and leads to the loss of an estimated 70 million working days each year.
Theoretically it is covered by the Equality Act 2010 and there have been some substantial settlements under this and its predecessor (the Disability Discrimination Act) where discrimination for depression, schizophrenia and other severe mental health problems has occurred.
It is also relevant to note that a non-disabled person who is treated less favourably than a disabled person cannot bring a claim under the Act. In this one area positive discrimination is lawful.
So, as an employer, how should you meet the challenge? These are my views:
- Examine your own prejudices, we all have them, but mental ill-health tends to carry a particular stigma. Reflect on the fact that there are high achievers of all genres who have had severe mental health problems, dramatically, Churchill springs to mind.
- Do not ask health questions in the recruitment process before a job offer is made. Not only do you risk legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission but you leave yourself vulnerable if you subsequently reject a candidate who has health issues.
- Be prepared to talk about health sincerely and genuinely with an applicant if they disclose the issue. The same applies to employees. Such discussions will have to be confidential unless the applicant or employee gives permission for them to be otherwise.
- If you can, emotionally, honestly, and without compromising individuals, then be open about your attitude to mental health problems.
- Consider Flexible Working for an applicant or employee. You will have to consider it if an employee makes a request, but it is something that may be offered in any event. It may be better to know where you are than to be subject to random unexpected absences or other events.
- Make other reasonable adjustments where you can. This could include amending the job description, additional supervision or time out during the day.
- Be alert to employees with mental health problems being harassed by other employees. This is unlawful and you will need to take steps to stop it if it occurs, without compromising confidentiality of course.
There is useful guidance given by the Mind charity HERE.
Malcolm Martin of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert contributor.