The public’s general understanding of the importance of mental good health has definitely improved over the last few years. As well as through promotion by “celebrities” and princes, many of us have had personal experience of mental ill-health, whether our own, those closest to us or colleagues in the workplace.
The Government has previously published plans to promote the importance of mental health in the workplace and Acas has provided guidance on this issue.
We have also previously recommended that employers be pro-active by considering the appointment of mental health first aiders. The need for such a resource is very much on par with that of the usual (physical) first aider from a health and safety perspective and is becoming far more common in many workplaces.
Mental Health First Aid England is a national training provider and has recently published guidance in collaboration with some large employers to help employers understand their roles and responsibilities when introducing mental health first aiders into the workplace. By following the guidance, employers can ensure that both they and mental health first aiders themselves understand the expectations and limits of their role, including potential safety concerns for the first aiders themselves.
By having trained and available mental health first aiders, an employer will hopefully be able to improve the general wellbeing of its staff and be proactive in dealing with issues before they reach a head. A long-term mental impairment may well be a disability under the Equality Act 2010, engaging (amongst other things) a duty to make reasonable adjustments. An employer with its figure on the mental health pulse will be well-placed to deal with matters as and when they arise, particularly as employers can be liable for discrimination when they ought to have known that a person was disabled (not just when they have actual knowledge).
With the increase in mental ill-health generally, we are often advising employers whose staff have less than two years’ service but are either having difficulties at work or are not at work at all due to stress, anxiety or depression. In such circumstances, we always recommend that the employer obtain an occupational health report to minimise any potential liabilities for unlawful disability discrimination.
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