Employers have a legal duty under Section 2 of Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of their employees. This duty includes a duty to take reasonable care for their
EMPLOYER’S DUTIES – MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE IN LIGHT OF COVID-19
The current pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the vast majority, if not all of our daily lives in terms of both our working and personal circumstances.
Four months in, and we are now slowly looking to attempt to get back to some form of what was our previously normal day to day lives.
Employers, where possible, are looking to get their employees back to the workplace or to put in place altered practices and procedures, for example home working, to enable their businesses to continue to operate.
What is however apparent, is that the past four months has impacted on most if not all of us to some extent in terms of our mental health, causing a range of feelings as a result of the situation we have faced including feelings of fear, anger, sadness, irritability, confusion, stress, anxiety and in some cases depression.
In terms of our working lives, these feelings could extend from the self-isolation and quarantining that most of us will have encountered either as a result of working from home, being furloughed or being placed upon unpaid leave.
Our daily working lives may have changed dramatically whilst many of us balance altered home and personal circumstances around a new way of working. Other changes to our working lives could be as a result of the change in role, job itself or a re-distribution of tasks leading to an increased or de-creased workload.
Employers have a tough job therefore to understand and take into account each employee’s individual circumstances, and to keep on top of how those circumstances may impact upon their employee’s mental health.
So what as employers should you be doing to assist and protect the mental health of your employees?
Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities and duties to their employees, wherever they are working, whether they are at home, or back in the workplace.
- Employees who continue to work from home have a higher risk of feeling isolated, abandoned and disconnected because of their working arrangements;
- Employees returning to the workplace may be suffering from symptoms of anxiety and stress as they attempt to get back to what was a previously normal way of life, whilst aware that the pandemic is not as yet over.
Whatever the situation, it is of paramount importance therefore that you undertake some form of risk assessment that takes into account your employees’ mental well-being, and puts into place appropriate steps and measures to monitor their mental health accordingly.
Whatever the situation, employers are recommended to consider the following practices and procedures to monitor and protect the mental well-being of their employees:
- Put in place a system of communication for all employees which includes regular check-ins with employees (if possible face-to-face either virtually or in the workplace).
- Make sure that all employees are aware of an appropriate point of contact should they have any difficulties.
- Encourage employees to take regular breaks, keep active and undertake exercise.
- Put in place support groups or enable employees to keep in contact with their peers to enable them to discuss any issues.
- Ensure that line managers are briefed and made aware of the mental health implications of COVID-19 and what their roles and responsibilities are in relation to supporting their staff. Specifically line managers should be briefed on how to spot the first signs of mental illness and how to then take steps to reduce any stress accordingly.
- Communicate regularly on well-being and mental health support, as well as keeping staff up to date and informed on developments within the business / organisation to ensure that they feel involved.
- Provide mental health awareness raising activities where staff are encouraged to talk about and seek support for poor mental health.
So what should I do if an employee does disclose a mental health issue to me?
Where a line manager / HR has been made aware that one of their employees is struggling, they should consider the following:
- Referring the employee to their GP where further advice and support is required.
- Referring where appropriate their employee to occupational health.
- Providing further information to that employee in terms of support services for mental health and well-being.
- Put in place a further plan to monitor that employee’s well-being and where possible make reasonable adjustments to that employee’s job / role or provide support to that employee, dependent upon what the employee’s needs are. Any plans will be dependent upon the employee’s circumstances and in all likelihood will need to be flexible, taking into account the extent of the issue or the needs of the employee.
- It goes without saying that line managers/HR should seek additional advice where there are serious concerns about an employee’s mental health, and in an emergency, call 999.
Overall it is important that employees feel that by disclosing any mental health concerns, that their disclosure is made on a confidential basis, that no assumptions will be made, and that their concerns have been taken seriously and the necessary support has been provided.
Should you have any concerns about how to protect the mental health and well-being of your employees, or have any other health and safety queries with respect to your duties as an employer working during the pandemic or in general, please do not hesitate to contact the team at Prettys.