One in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. Even if you never suffer from mental illness, it’s likely that you’ll know someone who does. Mental illness is a significant problem in the workplace and is estimated to cost employers over £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence. The cost is largely from mental health not being properly managed in the workplace.
Acas has published guidance on what employers can do to help maintain the mental health of their employees:
- Spot the signs. This might involve making a note of what you see when you’re walking around or when you’re in a team meeting and choosing the right moment to intervene.
- Engage with the problem. Do you need to make reasonable adjustments?
- Keep a watching brief. Promote awareness of mental health issues and create a culture where employees feel they can talk to you about their concerns.
It is clearly in the interests of all parties that employers do what they reasonably can to promote good mental health.
The Equality Act 2010 protects workers with a mental impairment, which has or is expected to last for 12 months or more and has a substantial effect of their ability to carry out day to day tasks, from less favourable treatment on the grounds of their disability. However, recent research by the charity Shaw Trust found that more than half of all employers would not hire someone with a known mental disorder, while 80% considered there to be “risk” in a customer-facing role.
Earlier this month the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill was given its final approval. The aim of the Bill is to reduce the stigma and negative perceptions associated with mental illness. The requirement for MPs to relinquish their seats if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for six months will be removed; jurors will be allowed to be considered for jury service if they have suffered from a mental illness; and the Companies Act will be amended which previously required a director to resign from a company by reason of his mental health.
It is unclear how far the Bill will go to ensuring that individuals with mental health problems are not disadvantaged. However, it is a step towards ensuring that employees with a mental health disability get the protection they are legally entitled to receive. Employers need to learn to manage mental health issues rather than avoid them.
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