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Mental health in the workplace

In recent years, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace has become an item at the top of the agenda for most organisations. And it’s a growing issue. Stress, anxiety and depression are now acknowledged by the HSE to be the most common reason for someone to be off work and are an increasingly popular work stream for claimant lawyers with numerous websites dedicated to bringing such claims against employers.

Issues that trigger mental health at work are varied. From the demands of the role, incidents such as bullying, discrimination and harassment, changes in the workplace and processes such as disciplinaries, grievances and whistleblowing. And not forgetting issues at home that can influence behaviour and performance at work. All of these impact mental health and wellbeing. However, if not handled correctly, these issues can put organisations at risk — from both a financial and brand perspective — when they result in employment tribunals and civil injury claims.

Employers who turn a blind eye to harassment may well find themselves appearing in their local County Court or employment tribunal or being subject to a police investigation as harassment is both a criminal and civil offence. There is also potential liability under the Equality Act 2020 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

How we can help

Our team at Weightmans provides employers with a holistic service package in the mental health space. Our employment, claims management and regulatory experts have extensive experience in providing pro-active advice, insights and support to help prevent employment tribunals and claims from happening in the first place — and if they do, they’re there to help you manage and resolve them effectively with minimum impact on your organisation.

  • Employment

    We regularly advise employers on employment litigation matters involving mental health and stress at work, whether these are stand-alone claims of discrimination or linked to other matters such as constructions unfair dismissal claims.  We recognise the toll these issues can have on all parties and always ensure all options are explored at an early stage, where necessary and appropriate looking to achieve early resolution.  If this is not possible, or it is appropriate to continue to defend a claim, we offer a ‘cradle to grave’ approach including all stages of case preparation and advocacy.

    We assist our employer clients on a range of internal advisory issues such as policy reviews, grievances, bullying and harassment, short and long-term absences, managing stress at work and other issues which often have a mental health angle.  Many of the team are skilled investigators and we conduct independent investigations for clients across the spectrum of sectors and segments in which we operate.  It is common that we will advise employers on cases from the outset of issues being raised, through to employment tribunal litigation and advocacy, and also have trained mediators within the team who are able to lend an expert hand to resolving issues early, thus avoiding time-consuming and costly litigation, whilst also helping to manage reputational risk by avoiding public forums.  

    In addition to advisory work we regularly train managers on the legal issues and how to stay on the right side of the law, and HR teams on the management of mental health at work, bullying and harassment, avoiding discrimination, the management of long term absences and capability issues, stress risk assessments, disciplinaries, grievances and complaints handling, and whistle-blowing.

    Technology often plays a central part in assisting clients in risk managing their affairs, such as the use of a specially created disability tool which assists managers in assessing whether an employee is likely to be considered to be disabled and focusing their minds on matters such as the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

  • Claims management

    We advise on civil claims for stress, bullying and harassment made against employers. We are frequently instructed on such claims at the outset following initial notification and handle these cases from start to finish. Such claims often involve complex allegations dating back a number of years which require detailed investigation. Our team are specialists in this field and able to identify and cut to the crucial issues. We are experienced in handling sensitive cases that carry reputational risk and balancing this alongside commercial considerations. Our starting point for all cases is to find out what success looks like for you and then work with you towards the desired resolution. 

    We work collaboratively and have experience of the cross-over between the employment and civil litigation jurisdictions which can be used effectively to avoid/limit future liabilities by bringing appropriate claims to a satisfactory conclusion through achieving a clean break solution using settlement agreements.

    Our team of experts also provide post matter feedback considering claims defensibility and are able to provide training focussed on the issues involved in stress, bullying and harassment claims, providing top tips for managing such claims, identifying trends and red flags and highlighting the need for different departments within an organisation to work together advocating a holistic approach.

    To find out more, contact Hannah Beddis who will be happy to assist.

  • Regulatory

    We can advise on the criminal investigations which can arise where bullying and harassment allegations are made against employers. The Police may become involved where there is physical act of violence or a potential breach of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. In addition, in cases where several employees report work-related stress or related ill-health, the HSE may commence an investigation leading to possible enforcement action being taken.

    Our regulatory experts can also help to advise and support employers where there has been suicide or death as a result of work related mental health issues or violence in the workplace. We have a team of inquest advocates (including two serving Coroners) who are experienced in coronial proceedings that are linked to issues arising within the workplace. These cases, whilst rare, are extremely emotive and they require careful management to ensure that all the employees involved receive a high level of support, especially where they are required to provide oral evidence at the inquest.  

    Contact our regulatory defence lawyer, Anna Naylor, for more information.

  • Crisis management

    In the event of media interest/coverage of mental health, our crisis management team is there to advise you and manage risk.

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Mental health in the workplace

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