Healthy mind, body and profits!

 

When it comes to being ill, prevention is better than cure, and that includes in the workplace, so what can employers do to ensure their staff stay healthy and happy?

 

 

 

 

One in four of us will suffer from mental health problems in our lifetime yet many businesses do not understand how to deal with such issues. Mental health absence alone costs UK employers £30 billion a year, so it is no surprise employers are looking for new and innovative ways to prevent these absences from occurring – staff days out, the provision of healthy snacks and gym memberships are all popular methods.

What can employers do?

Many employers are alive to the benefits of ensuring employees remain healthy in mind and body. One way to do so is to ensure staff take their holiday entitlement, ideally spread over the holiday year – carry forward should be discouraged. Employers should also ensure workers take adequate breaks to reduce fatigue and burnout. As a minimum, under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), workers are currently entitled to:

  • 11 hours of uninterrupted rest per day.
  • 24 hours of uninterrupted rest per week.
  • A rest break of 20 minutes when the working time is more than six hours.
  • Adequate rest breaks for workers carrying out monotonous tasks, such as on a production line where this can put the worker’s health and safety at risk.

If an employer is found to have breached WTR, it can face criminal sanctions enforced by the Health and Safety Executive or the local authority and may have to pay compensation to the aggrieved worker in an employment tribunal.

The obligation on the employer is to ensure that workers can take their rest breaks and rest periods, but this does not mean ensuring that such breaks are taken.

Under the WTR, workers should not be working for more than 48 hours a week. If this is likely to be the case, workers must opt out in writing and be allowed to opt back in. For senior management roles that will necessarily involve working more than 48 hours over the course of a week, there is an exception that should be referenced in the employment contract.

Mental health

Unlike other visible forms of injury or condition, mental health issues are often much harder to spot. Employers should react supportively to employees complaining about stress or having difficulties dealing with what would otherwise be manageable tasks. Factors outside the workplace will often impact in the workplace (ie divorce or bereavement). Where employees are off work with mental health or related absences, efforts should be focused on encouraging them back to work and ideally allowing for a phased return to assist them. The longer the employee is absent from work and the more they feel disassociated with their work colleagues and the workplace, the less likely they will return.

Don’t discriminate

Unfortunately, there are situations where medical conditions can prevent employees from being in work for extended periods. In such circumstances, employers may want to dismiss. Such action is very high risk given that discrimination protection applies for employees with less than two years’ service and compensation awards are uncapped.

Before dismissal, employers should obtain medical advice on the condition and whether adjustments might be appropriate – it may be that there is an alternative role they could do in the business. Employers can dismiss if the worker is unable to perform their duties, but this should only be considered after following a fair procedure. By implementing and following a robust sickness absence and equal opportunities policy, employers will be better placed to defend any claims.