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The Legal Risks Around Mismanagement of Mental Health Issues

Wednesday was World Mental Health Day, a good time for employers to look at their legal obligations towards staff who are suffering with mental health issues.
In this article we bring you up to speed with some of the issues which surround mental health in the workplace and provide you with a broad outline of some of the potential claims that might arise if you mismanage an employee who is suffering with mental health issues.

Why is Mental Health a Workplace Issue?

It appears that as a society, mental health issues are on the rise. This has an obvious impact on the workplace, and places demands on employers to understand and manage issues related to mental health.

Stress, depression and anxiety are all examples of mental health disorders which may impact on someone in the workplace.
A lack of understanding of such illnesses, and how they impact on an individual in a particular case, can have a detrimental impact: whether it be higher sickness absence, grievances, employee relations issues, loss of management time, higher sick pay liabilities or, ultimately, legal claims and reputational damage.

Proactive management assists in protecting employers and can mitigate these impacts. It increases the chances of an individual being able to remain at work through illness and continue to build their career.

There are a number of risks which employers should be aware of. Listed below is a short summary of the various claims that an employer is exposed to.

What are the Potential Claims Arising from Mental Illness in the Workplace?

Health and Safety

Legislation imposes a general duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees, including requirements to assess health and safety risks, including stress related illnesses.

Disability Discrimination

The law imposes a duty not to treat employees less favourably because of their disability and to make reasonable adjustments to remove or reduce a disabled employee’s disadvantage. Employees suffering from a mental health condition may be disabled if they satisfy the legal test for disability.

Unfair Dismissal

An employee with two years’ service is protected from unfair dismissal. An illness may well constitute a fair reason for dismissal on grounds of capability but if the procedure followed is unfair, the employee can claim compensation or reinstatement/reengagement.

Constructive Dismissal

Employers are under an implied duty to take reasonable steps to ensure an employees’ safety, including a duty not to cause psychiatric harm to an employee by reason of the amount/type of work imposed. Breach of this duty can give rise to constructive dismissal and/or breach of contract claims.

How Can SCE Solicitors Help you Further?

Mental health remains one of the most challenging aspects of employee relations for management to deal with.

At SCE Solicitors we are experts in helping employers to manage these issues, and in avoiding any disputes. We also deal extensively with disputes that do arise in this area.

Because we recognise the challenges faced by employers and the importance of managing mental health in the workforce, we are able to support our clients in a number of ways by:

  • Providing workplace training to line managers and HR professionals on how to recognise mental illness and how to manage issues when the arise.
  • Assisting in drafting appropriate absence management and other policies tailored to your organisation’s needs.
  • Providing advice in relation to individual employee problems.

If you need any help and advice in relation to the above, please do not hesitate to contact me or the team on 01133 50 40 30 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
Latest posts by Emma Roberts (see all)
Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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