Mental health problems are the fourth most common cause of employee sickness absence. With one in six employees suffering from psychological illness, it’s critical for employers to understand the requirements around mental health leave.
Prepare to find out all about employee’s rights and employer’s responsibilities.
Is Mental Health Leave Different to Physical Sickness Absence?
In the UK, there’s no legal difference between a sick day taken for physical or mental ill health.
Causes of mental health leave range from stress, anxiety and depression to more serious ailments like schizophrenia and manic depression. As with physical conditions, individuals can suffer from short bouts of mental illness or longer-term cases.
In both instances, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) state that employers have a duty of care to staff to “take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing.” What’s more, many forms of mental illness are considered to be a disability giving employees entitlements under the Equality Act 2010.
What Should Your Sick Leave Policy Cover?
All HR policies should ensure they treat employees consistently and fairly and that includes your sickness absence policy. Whatever support you provide, be it statutory minimums or enhanced leave or sick pay, this should apply equally to individuals suffering from both mental and physical illness.
As with any physical disability, you are also required to make reasonable adjustments for any mentally disabled employee. Your policies should spell this out by discussing how you will manage support like:
- Time off to attend medical appointments including those with a psychologist or counsellor
- Mentoring or peer support at work
- A phased return to work after a period of absence
- Adjusting an employee’s hours
- Allowing an employee to work from home
- Relieving an employee of certain tasks (after discussion with them) that make their symptoms worse or create additional stress or pressure
Some organisations include additional leave (paid or unpaid) for individuals experiencing a traumatic life event, such as the death of a close relative. This kind of policy can provide staff with a buffer giving them the opportunity to recover some equilibrium. And it may even prevent them from suffering additional mental health problems in the long run.
What Can I Do to Prevent Mental Ill Health Amongst Staff?
Due to the huge number of events and circumstances that impact individuals’ lives, it’s not possible to prevent mental health problems entirely. However, you can create an environment where employees feel comfortable enough to raise any mental health concerns.
Mental health organisation, Mind, state that one in five employees would not feel comfortable telling their boss if they felt overly stressed at work. And, in an interview with the BBC, Sam Gurney, head of equality and strategy at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) says:
“When you look at the reality of the situation, mental health isn’t being addressed properly … People can be terrified of saying they have some kind of issue.”
Data gathered by the TUC shows that the problem goes beyond people taking time off. Just one in four people who have suffered from a mental illness or phobia for one year are in work.
So, what can you do? One option is to be proactive in training your managers to spot the signs of mental ill health. It’s also important to make it clear that your business considers and treats mental wellbeing in the same way that you deal with physical illness.
Despite the right to time off work for mental complaints, not everyone is aware of their right to do so. Research from Powwownow found that 43% of respondents were not aware that they could take sick leave for mental health reasons.
Another option is to work with an experienced HR consultancy and occupational health service provider. This will give you trained professionals to refer employees on to. Another good option is to provide counselling sessions via an employee assistance programme (EAP) or directly with a professional counsellor.
EAPs are excellent tools for helping prevent stress and manage it. They provide a range of information and advice services, usually covering health, legal and financial matters, which are some of the major causes of stress. By nipping these kinds of issues in the bud, anxiety and depression can sometimes be avoided.
Organisations perform better when their people are healthy, motivated and focused. Which is why employee mental wellbeing is increasingly on the radar of many organisations.
Standing by people when they experience poor mental health sends a clear message about your organisation’s values. And it can also help you keep hold of esteemed staff members and ensure the loyalty of others in your workforce.
To ensure you’ve got the right policies, tools and training to support your employees’ mental wellbeing, contact Crosse HR on 0330 555 1139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.