What mental health policies should your business have in place?

Karen Holden from A City Law Firm outlines employers’ duties and responsibilities with regard to stress in the workplace.



Business owners should be fully aware of their obligations and responsibilities to employees. Relevant legislation should also be in place to ensure they are compliant with the legal provisions relating to stress at work.

Legislation governing stress at work is surprisingly piecemeal, as there is not one single statute that makes provision for it. Instead, protection comes from a range of regulations and if you are an employer or an employee, you must understand the relevant provisions so that you are aware of its implications and your rights.

What is a business’s responsibility when it comes to managing the stress of staff members?

As an employer, your responsibility to manage stress amongst your members of staff extends further than a moral obligation. Employees are owed a duty of care and it could be said that there is an expectation on employers to ensure stress levels are managed to not impact a person’s health. Any inaction when it comes to addressing this could be a breach of contract.

Furthermore, as studies have shown that stress affects productivity, performance employers should note that employee stress can ultimately impact the bottom line.

Some mental health illness are recognised as disabilities and therefore come under the Equality Act 2010 as a protected characteristic, meaning people should not be treated differently due to them.

Research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2015/16 shows that over 480,000 people in the UK reported that work-related stress was making them ill. This amounts to nearly 40% of all work-related illness. This directly affects productivity and performance in the workforce.

Just like any other aspect of health and safety, stress should be considered a threat to everyday work life and, in addressing this issue, an employer’s primary objective should be to decrease the risk of stress-related illness or injury to their members of staff. Employers must be proactive by raising awareness and have a clear policy in place to make provision against stress-related illness.

Furthermore, from an employer’s perspective, if it is not addressed they could also be at risk of a personal injury claim against them.

If you are an employer or employee, together with the Equality Act, there are also some key pieces of legislation that you should make yourself familiar with:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This Act conveys a general duty upon all employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.
  • The Working Time Regulations 1998. Research shows that long hours and shift work can be linked to stress.These provisions contain strict stipulations for the hours an employee is allowed to work as well as other relevant provisions:
  • A maximum working week of not more than 48 hours, including overtime – although employees may opt out of this;
  • A maximum of eight hours of work for night shifts;
  • A daily rest period of 11 hours;
  • A minimum of one day off per week;
  • 20 minutes of rest if your working day exceeds 6 hours; and
  • Four weeks paid annual leave.

How to determine between lack of skill and stress when it comes to performance issues without discrimination

If an employee is unduly stressed, it is very likely that this will have a direct impact on their performance and skill when undertaking a task. It is therefore imperative that employers support employees who are stressed and do not unfairly conclude that the individual concerned lacks ability if there are temporary issues with their performance.

Employers should never make assumptions, but signs that an employee may be stressed include:

  • Changes in the person’s usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues;
  • Changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks;
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed;
  • Changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking and drinking alcohol; and
  • An increase in sickness absences and/or turning up late to work.

What policies should a business have in place to manage the mental health of their staff?

With ever-increasing pressures on the modern-day workforce, anxiety and depression are becoming more prevalent.

Establishing a strong policy on stress and mental health should be the first step for any employer in tackling such issues. Employees, management and HR should have a clear framework to assist with this as it is integral to removing any associated stigma and will provide comfort to all those that are affected.

If you are an employer, the benefits in creating a policy are clear, as a healthy happy workforce will ultimately increase productivity and improve your bottom line.

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