Your legal responsibility for mental health and stress management in the workplace

By Kieran Smith, Payroll & HR Director.

With Stress Awareness Month well underway, our Human Resources (HR) experts wanted to help employers and employees understand their right to mental health and stress alleviation in the workplace.

From an ESG perspective, the importance of workplace wellbeing is vital, prompting many of our clients – at least those who are employers – to adopt significant measures to reduce staff stress.

Although these initiatives mark a positive shift, it’s important to ask whether both employers and employees truly understand the legal basis for stress reduction.

Based on our observations as payroll and HR specialists, the legalities surrounding this issue are not as broadly understood as they might be, making this an ideal time for clarification.

Health and safety

The main statute safeguarding workers’ health and well-being is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The Act mandates that employers must, as far as is feasibly possible, look after the health, safety, and welfare of their staff while at work.

This responsibility includes mental as well as physical health.

While it does not directly target stress reduction, the Act insists that employers perform risk assessments to identify and alleviate work-related stress through practical steps.

These might involve workload adjustments, access to counselling services, or a supportive managerial approach.

However, the Act does not ban workplace stress or conflicts outright – rather, it obligates employers to keep stress at manageable levels and prevent it from arising through improper practices such as harassment or non-adherence to safety protocols.

Mental health discrimination

When stress turns debilitating or stems from (or leads to) a mental health issue, employees may find protection under the Equality Act 2010.

Under this Act, employees with mental health issues that constitute disabilities should be shielded from harassment and discrimination.

Employers are further required to adjust the workplace or the job roles to prevent these employees from being significantly disadvantaged relative to their non-disabled counterparts.

Such adjustments could include measures for stress reduction, especially if the stress is excessive or arises from routine business activities or work practices.

Defining eligible conditions can be complex, but typically includes conditions deemed ‘disabling’ and potentially classified as developmental or neurological, such as:

  • Autism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) under certain conditions
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other neurodiverse conditions including ADHD

Support for these employees with mental health disabilities might encompass:

  • Providing a quiet workspace when individual work is necessary
  • Allowing fixed desks to lessen anxiety
  • Conducting sensitivity training for colleagues

It’s crucial to understand that ‘reasonable’ can vary by circumstance and organisation but generally means adjustments that do not overly disrupt other employees or cause undue expense or harm.

The foundation of a healthy workplace

Beyond the legal implications of not complying with these statutes, employers often find that a supportive approach towards employee wellness fosters a more inclusive and productive work environment.

Recognising and addressing mental health issues not only helps in meeting legal obligations but also enhances employee satisfaction and retention, further reducing the risk of breaching employment laws during staff transitions.

Ultimately, employers who prioritise mental health support demonstrate a clear commitment that they value their employees’ well-being as highly as their contributions to the organisation.

Whilst we can’t give you legal advice, we are experts when it comes to payroll and HR-related issues.

As such, if you’d like any help in managing the monetary considerations around this part of your business, please get in touch with our team.