Creating a mentally healthy workplace is the goal of many organisations, both big and small. Not only is it important, employers are obligated by law to provide a safe and healthy workplace. Employers have a duty to take appropriate steps to ensure the working environment does not harm mental well-being or aggravate an existing condition.
Employers must take action to prevent or reduce potential risks to the health and safety of employees – and that includes mental well-being.
The research finds that the earlier a worker is identified as experiencing work-related stress, the sooner steps can be taken to prevent a work-related mental health condition developing, or prevent an existing condition worsening.
SafeWork NSW states that legal obligations include “so far as is reasonably practicable, preventing or removing workplace factors (risks) to both physical and psychological safety, and where it is not feasible to do so, reducing these factors and their impact.
And, when it comes to mental health, other legal responsibilities include avoiding discrimination and respecting privacy. These obligations are not only covered by law, but are also expected by the community, making them moral expectations as well as legal responsibilities.”
The Disability Discrimination Act defined ‘discrimination’ as including both direct and indirect discrimination. This means an employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments for a worker with a mental health condition may constitute discrimination, even if it appears no ‘direct’ discrimination occurred. In a workplace setting, discrimination could occur during the selection of employees for promotion, during the recruitment process itself, or by dismissal or demotion. It is complicated. The Australian Human Rights Commission developed a brief guide to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) which can be helpful in reviewing the Act.
The costs for businesses around mental ill-health are not just legal implications. Safework Australia provides a snapshot of claims for mental health conditions, noting that they are more than 2.5 times more expensive than typical compensation claims, and involve 3 times more time off work, with the typical time off work 15.3 weeks compared to 5.5 weeks for all claims. According to Safework Australia, between 2010–11 and 2014–15, around 91% of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition were linked to work-related stress or mental stress, with over a third related to work pressure.
What is work-related stress, and how can it be prevented, removed or reduced? This question is one which led to the development of the Think Differently program. Education and information are key – not just for managers, or leaders, but for the entire workforce.
And that’s because employer’s obligations exist alongside employee rights. For example, employee’s have a right to privacy which is covered by the Privacy Act of 1988 (Cth) and similar legislation in some states and territories. What that means is that if an employee discloses that they have a mental health condition, employers may not disclose this information without the employee’s consent. The information may only be used for the purpose for which the information was provided – which may have been to have a role adjusted to make allowances for the mental health condition. The employer cannot force treatment. But the employer can provide a workplace that offers transdiagnostic mental health programs – programs that target and aim to address the core problems of a wide range of mental health problems. In this way, the employer can help prevent mental health issues, remove stigma, build skills, and potentially reduce the impact of mental health through a wellness approach.
Investing into such programs aligns with the employee’s responsibilities – to take care of themselves, and others, and to cooperate with their employer in matters of health and safety. It aligns with employees natural interests and motivation to learn strategies that will benefit themselves and their families outside the workplace. And because, if an employees’ (or potential employees) mental health condition does not affect how they do their job, they have no legal obligation to tell the employer about it, working with the entire workforce to educate them about mental health means everyone benefits. It reduces the impact of the difficulty faced by many employers – that most employees will not disclose – due to fears of potential discrimination, harassment or reduced opportunities for career progression.
For all these reasons and more, mental health training needs to become a key part of onboarding and development.
Interested in finding out more about Think Differently and how our programs could benefit your workplace? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org