Mental health rights in the workplace: Understanding employer obligations and employee protections

Poor mental health in the workplace can negatively impact employee productivity and the working environment. 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health issues, so it is important that employees and employers alike understand how to deal with mental health in the workplace.

The stigma around mental health means it can be difficult for people to talk about mental health in the workplace. Shawmind is a mental health charity aiming to destigmatise mental illness by providing education on mental health and how to maintain a good mental wellbeing.

If you’re an employee or employer interested in understanding mental health rights and how to support mental health in the workplace, this article is a primer.

What are employer obligations towards mental health in the workplace?

In 2017, the UK Prime Minister commissioned the ‘Thriving at Work’ report. This report established a framework or ‘Core Standards’ to be followed by employers operating companies and organisations of all sizes. These standards are as follows:

  • Craft and execute a comprehensive mental health strategy in the workplace that prioritises the emotional wellbeing of all staff members. The strategy must outline the resources available to those who require assistance.
  • Elevate mental health consciousness among employees by making educational materials, resources, and support easily accessible.
  • Foster open discussions about mental health and the resources available when employees are facing challenges, both during the hiring process and at regular intervals throughout their employment. Offer appropriate accommodations to employees who need them to ensure a supportive work environment.
  • Provide employees with a positive work environment and work-life balance, and offer opportunities for growth and development.
  • Encourage positive people management to ensure all employees have regular check-ins with their line manager, supervisor, or organisational leader about their mental health and wellbeing. Provide training and support for line managers and supervisors in effective management practices.
  • Continuously assess employee mental health and wellbeing by analysing available data, engaging in conversations with employees, and identifying risk factors.

What mental health rights do employees have?

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees. This means that they should promote and support the overall physical health and mental wellbeing of their employees.

If you’re an employee experiencing mental health problems, it is important to speak to your employer about what they can do to accommodate your needs. Many employers offer mental health days. This means you can take a day off from work to recuperate and look after yourself. You are not required to disclose to your employer that you suffer with a mental health condition, but having an honest, confidential discussion with them at an appropriate time can go a long way to helping them to help you.

In the UK, under the disabilities act, employees have an equal right to take days off for mental health as for physical health. Under this act, employers must accommodate any mental health conditions and keep any disclosed medical history confidential.

Other legislation on this topic that you should consult:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA).
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995 & 2005 (DDA).
  • Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA).
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999).
  • Equality Act 2010

Why should employers focus on mental health in the workplace?

Save money

Mental health aid in the workplace can actually save the organisation money. Estimates show that mental health costs the UK employers £45 billion a year. In the workplace, untreated mental health can result in decreased productivity, absenteeism, high staff turnover and presenteeism.

Untreated mental health can also lead to more severe issues, like anxiety, physical illnesses from stress, fatigue and more, which in turn can lead to severe consequences, including suicide.

However, research shows it pays to invest in employee mental health. For every £1 spent on things like Workplace Mental Health Training, employers save an average of £5.

Reduction in employee turnover

Research shows that 42% of UK businesses have lost an employee due to a lack of workplace care for mental health. Talent retention is one of the most important aspects for a successfully functioning organisation.

Data shows that a positive mental health environment in the workplace can help employers keep 42% of staff and 25% of critical staff. Mental health incentives can also be attractive when trying to recruit top talent.

Healthier work environment

We spend a large portion of our lives at work, it should be a healthy environment that we enjoy being in. Having mental health support can make employees feel more valued and appreciated.

What can employers do to support mental health in the workplace?

Employers are responsible for the wellbeing and welfare of their employees. It is important to try and detect mental health issues in the workplace early. Not everyone is comfortable making the initial steps to reach out for help, so leaders should be vigilant.

As an employer, if you detect any of the following signs in your employees, it is important to try and have a conversation with your employee to see what support you can provide. Similarly, if you detect signs of any of the following as an employee, reach out to your employer to find out about what they can do to help:

  • Retreat from social events
  • Lack of enthusiasm for work or daily routines
  • Irrational fears, distrust, or worry
  • Substance abuse/misuse
  • Diminished involvement
  • Rise in absences
  • Atypical conduct
  • Alterations in sleep or dietary habits
  • Variations in work routines
  • Decline in efficiency

Many organisations have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) that include mental health options, but studies show that the average uptake of EAPs is around 33%. Employers should regularly and visibly communicate the EAP access methods and benefits to staff.

Employers can play a crucial role in supporting the mental wellbeing of their employees through various means. As an employer, here are a few things you can do to support mental health in the workplace:

  • Encouraging open and supportive communication creating a positive work atmosphere.
  • Providing flexible work arrangements, including remote work or flexible working hours, to promote work-life balance.
  • Providing mental health training and resources to managers and employees to raise awareness and understanding.
  • Taking proactive measures to prevent workplace stress and burnout by managing workload and promoting a healthy work environment.
  • Creating a safe, inclusive and supportive work environment that prioritises mental health and wellbeing.

If you’re an employer looking to establish mental health measures in the workplace, check our mental health training courses. If you want to build a mental-health positive organisation, consider donating to Shawmind to help Headucate young people about mental health.

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