Don’t let stressed employees go ignored amongst the Christmas celebrations

Whilst some employees will be getting excited about Christmas celebrations there will be others who won’t, for a variety of reasons. It is known…

Whilst some employees will be getting excited about Christmas celebrations there will be others who won’t, for a variety of reasons. It is known that Christmas time can be a trigger for relapse for those that suffer with mental health issues.

The Equality Act 2010 widened the definition of ‘disability’ particularly regarding mental ill-health. There is no longer a need for mental illness to be ‘clinically well-recognised’ to be a disability. Instead the Act focuses upon whether a mental health condition has a substantial adverse effect on the normal day to day activities of the individual. This means that employees suffering from ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ may be disabled if their day to lives are impacted. 

‘Work related stress’ or ‘anxiety’ are regularly cited on medical certificates. Where the number or length of absences for an employee suffering with a physical illness would trigger an occupational health referral or some other medical assessment, employers must have in place the policy and procedures to feel confident to do the same for mental health.

Mental health issues are significantly less well understood than physical ill health and many employers feel uncomfortable about discussing them. Having clear mental health policies should enable employers and employees to more easily explore the nature of the employee’s mental illness, the prognosis, likely future ability to work and if any adjustments can be made within the employees working environment to assist their return to work or to enable them to remain in work. 

Most successful disability discrimination cases include an allegation that an employer has failed to make reasonable adjustments to a workplace policy or practice. An employment tribunal claim for disability discrimination can potentially attract an uncapped compensatory award meaning that, as well as having a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the employee, a failure to address employee mental health issues in a constructive and timely way could ultimately prove expensive.

Organisations of all sizes should consider a referral  to occupational health when an employee has had repeated or long term absence for stress, anxiety or any other mental illness. This will enable the employer to make an assessment of whether the employee already does, or may, be disabled for the purposes Equality Act and what adjustments might assist.

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