Handling mental illness thoughtfully benefits the workplace

Wednesday 22 February, 2017 | By: Default Admin | Tags: mental health, beyond blue, anti-discrimination, bullying

Mental illnesses are an increasing issue for employers, costing Australian businesses an estimate $11 billion per year.

Job and workplace stress is largely contributing to the increasing problem with the general expectation that we all do more with less. 

Mental illness is a health problem that affects how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people.

Given the consuming performance management processes businesses are required to adhere to while not acting in an adverse way – such as discriminating against someone with a mental illness – makes navigating the way through anti-discrimination and employment legislation all the more challenging.  

While you may be thinking you don’t have instances mental illnesses in your workplace, the fact is one in six people are affected by a mental illness.

Knowing this, employers need to be adequately equipped in being able to manage employees who have a mental illness in order to meet duty of care obligations and do right by staff, which will in turn reduce risks of an unfair dismissal or adverse action claim. 

The Salazar v John Holland Pty Ltd (2014) case demonstrates dismissal, where the employer failed to take the employee’s medical condition into account, being considered unsound and ill-founded by the Commissioner.  Therefore warranting the dismissal for the misconduct being harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

In cases similar to those of Salazar v John Holland Pty Ltd, recommendations to avoid an unfair dismissal or general protections claim and minimise risks associated with employees who are effected by a mental illness can include creating a workplace free from bullying and harassment, a culture of openness, offering EAP to staff, and regular training for staff on workplace policies and procedures, including mental health awareness.

While  you may be thinking that's not realistic for some SMEs ( non-income generating work), findings show an ROI of 2.31 via the successful implementation of an effective action to create a mentally healthy workplace. 

The below points need to be considered when managing staff for any workplace employment matter to minimise your legal exposure, especially in the case where an employee is incapable of performing their role because of a mental illness:

•             Actively seek relevant information about the impact the mental health issue has on the employee’s work performance.

•             Obtain commitment by senior management in relation to identifying and managing signs of poor mental health among workers.

•             When an employee first indicates that their capacity to work is diminished by a psychological condition, such as workplace stress, assume the alleged stress condition is legitimate and seek to investigate possible work-related causes.

•             Encourage managers to facilitate a return to work for employees on stress leave.

•             Seek the best available medical evidence about the employee’s work capacity and enter into a dialogue with the employee to develop a return-to-work plan.

•             Undertake these initiatives independently from (but not in contradiction of) any process of determining a workers’ compensation claim.

•             Focus on reasonable adjustments and measures to overcome the issue.

•             Obtain the best available medical information (while respecting limitations imposed by anti-discrimination and privacy laws).

•             Explore possible support measures with the employee.

Mental illnesses can be difficult to work with as no case is the same.

Follow the points outlined in this article or contact the Employer Assistance Team at CCIQ on 1300 135 822 or advice@cciq.com.au for more tailored advice regarding your specific situation. 




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