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about 7 years ago by guest contributor, David Regan

Talent Experts - Employee Mental Health

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As part of our Talent Expert series, we have been speaking with David Regan, Senior Associate at Squire Patton Boggs. For Mental Health Awareness Week (8th-14th May 2017), David explains how best to support an employee who may be experiencing mental health problems.

One of my employees has become withdrawn and irritable; the quality of their work has also dropped.  I am worried that they may be stressed and/or depressed – what do I do?

First, the most important thing is do not avoid the issue!  Often, regardless of the situation, employees may want or need help, but they just either don’t know how to ask for it or are scared that if they do ask for it then the "stigma" having asked for it will follow them around, possibly impacting their career prospects.   Employees should feel able to approach their managers or HR to discuss their problems – a failure to do so can, over time, lead to difficulties in the relationship between the employee and their manager/the business.

If you are not sure how to open the conversation with your employee, speak to HR and ask them to help you speak to the employee.  Most HR staff will have dealt with similar situations and many have had training on mental health issues (or know someone who has).  Asking employees how they are doing is not about you, or indeed the business, looking to 'fix' the situation, it is about helping the employee understand that you and the business are willing to listen and, where appropriate, will try to find them help – this can come in many forms, from mentoring, engaging an employee assistance programme ("EAP"), or in more serious cases, an asking an occupation health specialist to make recommendations to help an employee.

One important question which may arise is whether or not the employee is "disabled" for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 ("EA") – this will depend on the facts of a specific case.  Where an employee is disabled for EA purposes, there can be additional obligations on an employer – for example in certain circumstances employers should consider whether they need to make 'reasonable adjustments'.  This is often a difficult exercise, as it means balancing an employee's needs with the resources and demands of the business, as well as ensuring that other members of the team aren't overloaded.

David Regan is a Senior Associate at law firm Squire Patton Boggs. A specialist in media and advertising, David deals exclusively in labour and employment law.