Research indicates that disability discrimination claims being heard by the Tribunals increased by 37% from 2017 to 2018. This may well be because of the abolition of Tribunal fees, but another strong contender is that stress-induced mental health issues are on the rise. This comes as with the increasing readiness of employees to allege that mental health issues amount to disabilities. There is also an increasing awareness of mental health issues and a tendency to hold employers responsible for these.
Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at the mental health charity MIND, has reminded employers of their duties under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. However, she appreciates that employees are not always necessarily willing to tell their employers of mental health issues, in the light of the associated stigmas that foresee as attached to their mental health issues.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) released a report for Mental Health Week (week beginning 13 May 2019) where they surveyed 400 employees about whether they would discuss their mental health issues with their employer. The researchers found that 80% of employees said they would not discuss problems with their line manager; while 25% said they would be more comfortable having the conversation with a colleague.
The Where’s Your Head At? campaign set up a petition calling on the government to make it a legal requirement for employers to have someone in the workplace trained in mental health first aid which has already achieved over 200,000 signatures. The campaign has also produced a letter to the Prime Ministers calling for statutory mental health first aiders which was signed by over 50 businesses and organisations, including WHSmith and Thames Water.
A mental health first aider in the workplace would be the go-to person for anyone who is going through some form of mental health issue. They will be able to talk to anyone who would like to discuss their mental health, and direct them to any services which may be available to them. However mental health first aiders are not designed to replace mental health professionals, but to champion good mental health in the workplace and support an individual to make their life at work easier.
However as the digital economy transforms how we work, there will be an increase in employees not having a traditional workplace, as many people already work from home or, as opposed to permanent jobs, have short-term contracts or freelance work. To tackle this issue, there have been discussions regarding how gig economy workers and those who are self-employed can access similar services. Their needs should be of equal importance considering the level uncertainty that their way of work brings which may prove to be the trigger for mental health issues.
At the very least having a telephone counselling helpline through an inexpensive employee assistance programme (EAP) is a good place to start. Promoting this to your staff will bolster your chances of successfully arguing that you have appropriate stress or anxiety treatment measures easily accessible in the interests of your employees’ welfare.
If you would like more information on mental health first aiders in the workplace, visit: MHFA - England Workplace.