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The UK highstreets and tourist spots were brought back to life this week after a quieter than usual start to the Easter Holidays.

   

From the 12 April non-essential shops and personal care businesses were able to roll up their shutters. This includes clothes shops, charity shops, hairdressers, beauticians, and libraries. Outdoor and indoor attractions and leisure facilities will reopen, weddings for up to 15 people can take place and pubs and restaurants can open for outdoor service. There will still be social distancing and face covering policies in place where necessary and in some places customers/visitors will need to stay within their own family or support bubble.

   

As businesses welcome back their employees, they should consider the welfare and mental health of their team as well as the practical aspects of re-opening their businesses and seeing customers once again safely.

   

Is a Mental Health Crisis The Next Pandemic?

 

Many have concerns that a mental health pandemic is on the horizon as many employees who could be feeling isolated, anxious and fragile are thrust back into ‘normal life’ after spending over a year working from home or isolated from their friends and family.

   

In this Employment Law Blog we consider how your employees may be feeling as they swap their loungewear for office attire, set their alarms earlier for the commute, leave their beloved dogs at home and prepare to return to the workplace.

   

How Are Employees Feeling?

 

The covid-19 pandemic has effect people across the country in a variety of different ways. Some have suffered from contracting the virus first-hand, others have lost close family members, suffered financial hardship due to job losses in their household, have been working on the frontline or are struggling with their mental health feeling isolated from their usual support networks.

   

There isn’t a vaccine for the mental health issues that people are suffering as a result of the pandemic and various lockdowns, and it is vital that employers are  aware of their legal duties towards their employees.

   

Whilst a recent study by YouGov shows that 38% of employees are optimistic that returning to work will improve their mental health, employers may notice that their workforce are suffering with their mental health which may take some time to improve as they settle back into the workplace.

   

44% of employees say that their mental health is worse than last Spring when the UK went into the first national lockdown and 50% of women say that their mental health is suffering – this is likely due to the fact that more women are likely to be furloughed, on lower pay or have been tasked with home-schooling children.

   

What might employees be feeling as they prepare to return to work – either from being on furlough or working from home?

   
  • Social anxiety from reduced interactions with peers
  • Concerns over their job security should further lockdowns occur
  • Fear of change, having got used to home-working practices and procedures
  • Fear of their health and safety returning to work and mixing with others
  • Lack of confidence in their workplace being covid-secure
  • Excited to return to the workplace and be reunited with their colleagues
  • Pleased to return to work for their own mental health and wellbeing
 

It is likely that employers will welcome back a mixed bag of emotions, outlooks and perspectives which they will need to manage with compassion ensuring they are acting fairly and reasonably.

   

Your Legal Obligation

 

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees at work, providing them with a safe and supportive working environment. This includes in the physical workplace and also those employees working remotely.

   

If an employee has an ongoing mental health issue or starts to suffer with a mental health issue, then it must be taken seriously under the employer’s duty of care. Employers should follow a robust process for addressing mental health issues, including undertaking risk assessments and identifying any reasonable adjustments that can be made.

   

It is vital to ensure that employees with mental health concerns are not treated unfairly or discriminated against.

   

How To Spot The Signs

 

Everyone is different and when it comes to suffering with poor mental health, it can be a bit of a minefield to spot the symptoms. Many people will try to cover up the fact that they are struggling whilst others may not know that they have any issues at all. With the increased media attention and public funding into mental health, people are becoming a lot more vocal about sharing their battles with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

   

Some behavioural indicators for HR, managers, and supervisors to look out for could include the following:

   
  • Changes in mood or behaviour
  • Employees appearing tired due to lack of sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor attendance, increased sick days
  • Performance issues or making more mistakes than usual
  • Appearing quieter than usual or withdrawn socially
  • Changes in their physical appearance, such as sudden weight changes
  • Not communicating or socialising as they used to
  • Over-working and heading towards burnout
  • Outwardly expressing anger or stress
 

 

Employee working in coffee shop during covid pandemic wearing a face mask employment law mental health

What Can Employers Do?

 

As offices and workplaces re-open there are lots of tasks to complete. Reviewing your mental health policy and what support you currently offer to employees is a good place to start to action a potential mental health crisis.

   
  • Are your policies on mental health clear and thorough?
  • What support do you offer employees?
  • Do you have an appointed mental health first aider?
  • Do you have any employee benefits that promote good mental health?
  • Do employees know where to go for further support?
  • How do you communicate all of the above? And how frequently?
 

Given the likely volume of staff who will be suffering some level of poor mental health upon returning to work, it may be sensible to take action from the get go and communicate your intentions to support employees as the transition back into the workplace.

   

You could ask your teams to voluntarily complete a Wellness Action Plan. These can be downloaded from the Mind website (https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-your-staff/employer-resources/wellness-action-plan-download/) and can help employees to communicate their concerns in a safe, private way and help employers to understand and identify what steps need to be taken.

   

Mental Health Training

 

Having regular and comprehensive training on mental health for your line managers and HR departments is essential to help your business to support its staff and minimise risks of a range of employment issues.

 

Poor mental health in the workplace can decrease productivity, increase sickness, lower morale and see staff retention drop. Failure to address issues or follow the correct protocols can leave you open for discrimination claims and poor publicity.

   

It is important for managers to feel confident and comfortable addressing mental health issues within their teams rather than burying their heads in the sand.

   

Lamb Brooks offer a concise 1 hour training session which is suitable for all levels of HR professionals, managers, team leaders, supervisors and business owners. The session covers:

   
  • What is mental health?
  • Why is managing mental health at work so important?
  • How are employees with mental health issues protected in the workplace?
  • What legal obligations do employers have?
  • What are reasonable steps?
  • What are the implications of getting it wrong?
  • Practical steps on how to make a positive difference in your workplace
  • Spotting the warning signs
  • Having facilitated conversations
  • Supporting employees
  • Being a mindful manager
  • Knowing when to seek further support

For more information or to book a bespoke Mental Health Training Session for your company, please get in touch with Karen Bristow, Partner and Head of Employment Law on 01256 844888 or email karen.bristow@lambbrooks.com.

   

The session can be held via Zoom or Teams for convenience and to comply with social distancing measures. It will provide managers with some insight into mental health, some help to break down the stigmas that still surround mental health problems and give them some practical tips and tools to put into place.

   

For further information or legal support for your business you can contact our Employment Law Team on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online Chat Assistant at any time of day.

   

Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

Employment Webinar: ‘Pitch Perfect – Attracting & Retaining Your Best Talent

Supporting Employees Back Into the Workplace

No Jab, No Job: Can Employers Insist on Employee Vaccines?

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.