Stress, depression and anxiety could amount to disabilities requiring reasonable adjustments
According to the World Health Organisation ‘health’ is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Employers wishing to achieve the highest levels of productivity and performance from their staff should consider not just health but also employee well-being, which encompasses a much wider range of factors, including mental health.
Underlying long term mental health conditions which have a substantial effect on an employee’s day to day activities could constitute a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. This could include conditions linked to well-being such as stress, depression and anxiety. Organisations should monitor the health of employees to ensure any long term health complaints are identified early.
It is often more difficult for employers to identify mental health conditions than physical impairments, even though the former are more common. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.
Employers have positive obligations to make reasonable adjustments to assist employees suffering from disabilities to work. It is also important that employers do not treat disabled employees less favourably, or unfavourably, because of a disability or something arising from such a disability.
Overarching policies which could, and do, negatively affect employees suffering from a disability should be avoided. Employers should also be conscious of their obligations not to treat employees less favourably because they are associated with someone who suffers from a disability.
Discrimination issues arising from disabilities are complex and employers should take legal advice to ensure that they act within legal parameters. However, the benefits of supporting employee well-being are well documented and will increase productivity and save cost. A survey looking at UK health, well-being and productivity conducted by Towers Watson found that businesses which implement a health and well-being programme achieve 27 per cent higher productivity.
Guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence provides examples of steps employers could take to achieve employee well-being. The guidance recommends that employers should:
- use employee attitude surveys, and monitor absence rates and employee turnover, to gain an understanding of the current level of employee well-being within their workplace
- involve their whole organisation in promoting well-being and de-stigmatising mental health concerns
- train their managers to recognise the warning signs of unacceptable levels of stress in their employees and to develop supportive management styles
- use mentoring schemes, stress management training, counselling and occupational health to support employees
- identify the concerns and differing needs of employees within their organisation, including making reasonable adjustments for those suffering from mental health disabilities
- consider and, where viable, accept flexible working requests from employees who have childcare or adult caring obligations
- consider and, where viable, allow employees to work part-time, from home or to job share should their needs require it
- take advantage of the external support available to them from the Federation of Small Business and Chambers of Commerce.
Article featured in People Management online - 11th November 2013
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