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New Year, new you? Managing mental and physical illness at work

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As we welcome 2019 and vow to stick to our New Year’s resolutions, the return to work can be a very stressful and often dreaded time of year.

The New Year can bring with it various physical and mental impairments that employers should remain vigilant of if they are to minimise the risk of discrimination. It is against the law for employers to discriminate against an employee who has a disability. Under employment legislation, disability is defined as having a physical and mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. If an employee is disabled, an employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for the employee.

Mental Health

Employees can feel overwhelmed, either in relation to the amount of work that has accrued in their absence, or simply because they dread restarting the 9 to 5 slog for another year. It is not uncommon for people to suffer from mental health conditions, specifically work-related stress, anxiety and depression. It is important that employers remain vigilant and support any members of staff that appear to, or may, be struggling.

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”[1]. Examples of behaviour that may indicate an employee is struggling include mood swings, being withdrawn, time off sick, arriving to work late, loss of motivation or increased emotional reactions. It is important that employees suffering from a mental health condition are not subjected to unfavourable treatment as the employer (and the individual discriminator) could be liable for disability discrimination.

Employers can refer to the mental health guidelines published by mental health charity, Mind and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) to find out what steps can be taken to support employees suffering from a mental health condition in the workplace.

Business leaders and unions have publicly addressed the government on the proposal that it should be compulsory for businesses to have trained staff, able to deal with mental health issues.

Physical health

It is not just mental health that can be affected at this time of year as the cold winter weather can result in people suffering from colds and flus. The UK has been described as the “sickie” capital of Europe as 27% of UK employees surveyed believe it is ok to call in sick even if they are not ill[2]. This is in comparison to 21% of European employees.

Despite these statistics, it is important to note that some employees do not feel comfortable calling in sick and feel pressurised to turn up to work regardless of their health. This can be equally problematic as germs can spread, resulting in further absences within teams.

If you would like to discuss the content of this article in more detail, or how we can assist and support you, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Team.

This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.