Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, and the primary focus of this year is ‘anxiety’.
It is important for employers and employees to understand mental health in the context of the workplace and the law surrounding it. Employers have a duty of care which means that they must reasonably support and care for their employees to ensure that the work environment is safe, and that their health and wellbeing is being looked after. This involves ensuring that risk assessments are in place, office/work policies are clear and adhered to, employees are trained and competent, and that employees are protected from discrimination.
Mental health as a disability:
Under the Equality Act 2010, disability is a protected characteristic, meaning that employers and employees cannot discriminate against someone due to being disabled (other protected characteristics are: age, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion/belief, sex and sexual orientation). Employers must also be conscious to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to ensure that the employee is not at a disadvantage due to their disability.
Under this law, someone with poor mental health, can be considered disabled, if:
• Their mental health has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on their life;
• it lasts, or is expected to last, for 12 months or more
• it affects their ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks.
Examples of mental health conditions include, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anorexia and borderline personality disorder, to name but a few.
Stress is also a common emotion which is experiencedin the workplace, and although stress does not qualify as a recognised medical condition, so may not beclassified as a ‘disability’, employers should be aware of employees’ ‘stress levels’. If stress is not managed properly it can lead to anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions which can amount to a disability.
The focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is anxiety. Whilst anxiety is a familiar and natural emotion for most people in day-to-day life (and is often a healthy response to certain situations), it sometimes can become overwhelming and lead to mental health problems, as well as physical health issues.
Many things can lead to someone feeling anxious, for example workload, starting/losing a job, money issues, or a family member passing away. It is key that employers are aware of the implications surrounding anxiety (and other mental health conditions), and what they can do to support employees who may suffer with poor mental health.
Reasonable adjustments are changes which employers can make to remove or reduce a disadvantage an employee may have in relation to their disability. Under the Equality Act 2010, reasonable adjustments must be made for the following groups:
• Workers and employees
• Contractors and self-employed people who have been hired to do the work
• Job applicants
It can sometimes be difficult, especially if employees/workers/applicants do not recognise their mental health condition as a disability; but employers need to be aware of symptoms or spotting traits which could indicate that there may be mental health issues to consider.
Under the law, employers must make reasonable adjustments when:
• They know, or could reasonably be expected to know, that someone is disabled;
• A disabled staff member or applicant asks for reasonable adjustments;
• Someone who is disabled is having issues/difficulties with their job, or part of their job/role; or
• Someone’s absence from work, sickness record or delay in returning to work is because of, or linked to, their disability.
If an employer is aware that an employee struggles with anxiety, for example, even if it has not been recognised with a formal diagnosis, it is good practice to make reasonable adjustments to assist them with their role. Simple changes, such as allowing more rest breaks, having a wellness room/area in the office, working with the employee each day to help prioritise their workload, arranging more frequent ‘catch-up’ meetings, or offering an ‘employee assistance programme’ (EAP) may help them manage their emotions or condition to ensure that they can work safely, productively, and hopefully more happily. ACAS have recently produced an employers’ guide.
There are many resources online to help people dealwith symptoms of anxiety (as well as other mental health conditions); the Mental Health Foundation, which runs Mental Health Awareness Week, have a useful guide with tips on how to cope with feelings of anxiety – it can be found here: What can we do to cope with feelings of anxiety? | Mental Health Foundation. Employers may find it appropriate to share this with employees and signpost other sources of mental health support (apps such as Calm, wellbeing programmes and initiatives), to assist with opening up the conversation surroundingmental health in the workplace and promoting a supportive culture.
If you require further information about the contents of this article and/or would like assistance or advice on the same, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment team at email@example.com.
If you have been affected by the contents of this article and believe that you need help, there are many specialist organisations who are able to offer support and advice.