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Mental Health Disorder – Should you tell your employer?

What do Buzz Aldrin, Bon Jovi, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, and Oprah Winfrey all have in common?

The answer is that they have all suffered from mental illness. Winston Churchill even named this disorder “black dog”, indicating that it was his lifelong companion.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6 New Zealand adults have been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some time in their lives and it is the third-leading cause of health problems for New Zealanders. That means, one in 6 employees are likely to be suffering from a mental illness. Statistics from Australia, Canada, The USA and The UK report that 1 in 5  suffer from a mental health disorder every year.

Should you tell your employer?

The big question is?  Should you have to tell your employer if you have a mental health disorder? And, does your employer have the right to ask?

The Health and Safety in Employment Act promotes the health and safety of everyone at work. Employers are required to have systems in place to monitor workplace health and safety and, in terms of mental illness, employers are compelled to:

  • Identify workplace practices, actions or incidents which may cause or contribute to the mental illness.
  • Identify issues that may affect the health and safety of workers.
  • Take actions to eliminate or minimise these risks.

While employers have several legal obligations in relation to privacy, they do have the right to ask certain questions about an employee or potential employee’s mental health status, if obtaining more information about a condition is legitimate, necessary and desirable. This additional information may be:

  • to determine whether the person can perform the inherent requirements of the job.
  • to identify if any reasonable adjustments may be needed, either in the selection and recruitment process or in the work environment.
  • to establish facts for entitlements such as sick leave, superannuation, workers’ compensation and other insurance.

If you do ask your employee for information, you must maintain confidentiality and protect his or her right to privacy. This means protecting the information against improper access and disclosure.

In turn, all employees (including those with mental illness) are legally obliged to:

  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety.
  • take reasonable care that their acts and/or omissions do not adversely affect the health or safety of others.
  • cooperate with any reasonable instructions to ensure workplace health and safety.

The Act defines hazards and harm comprehensively, including harm caused by work-related stress and hazardous behaviour caused by certain temporary conditions, such as mental fatigue or traumatic shock. Employers who ignore the potential for non-physical harms will find themselves facing penalties for not providing a safe workplace, including imprisonment (of up to 5 years) and fines (of potentially up to $3 million).

Organisations should also heed the Human Rights Act and Employment Relations Act 2000 that states that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of disability, which includes mental illness.  Ie; It is unlawful for an employer to ask for information about a job applicant’s disability, including their mental health. The Privacy Act 1993 also outlines the collection, storage, use and disclosure of information.

If an employer has reason to believe that there is a risk to worker health and safety, then they should have a policy that includes consultation with employees and that consultation should be conducted  formally and confidentially and sensitively.  The law also places an onus on the Employee that they may not endanger themselves or fellow employees.

Statistics from Australia have determined that Mental Health Issues cost Australian Business 10.9 Billion Dollars a year and is one of the leading causes of sickness, absence and long term work incapacity in Australia.  However, research from a Price Waterhouse Coopers study reported that for every dollar spent on successfully implementing an appropriate action in terms of workpace mental health, there is on average, $2.3 in benefits to be gained.  Benefits include:

  • Improved Productivity.
  • Less absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Reduction in claims and litigation risk.

myosh is a global provider of cloud based Health and Safety software.  In consultation with experts and clients, myosh have developed a simple yet powerful platform that helps organisations to quickly identify issues that may impact the mental or physical health and safety of employees.

The mywellbeing Platform enables organisations to manage and improve workplace mental health with simple yet powerful tools to obtain confidential feedback and acknowledgement from employees regarding:

  • Employee Mental Health
  • Bullying
  • Harassment
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Management and Culture

Importantly, the platform provides a documented secure record of issues and acknowledgment.  It also provides:

  • A checklist for management.
  • Reporting tools for urgent alerts.
  • A huge library of Mental Health Resources for guidance.
  • Action based notifications and reminders

The platform is an identification and documentation tool. Management are not required to ‘fix’ mental health issues but they must demonstrate due diligence. Organisations are not obliged to treat disorders but the can encourage employees to seek professional help.  The platform facilitates communication, helps to reduce stigma and alerts management to issues.

Request a personal online demonstration here: http://myosh.com/wellbeing/

References

Working Women’s Resource Centre –http://www.wwrc.org.nz/assets/resources/1-in-5-Guide-2010.pdf

The Privacy Act: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1993/0028/latest/whole.html#DLM296639

NZ Law Society – http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/lawtalk/lawtalk-archives/issue-815/mentally-healthy-workplaces

WorkSafe New Zealand – http://www.worksafe.govt.nz/worksafe/information-guidance/guidance-by-hazard-type/stress-fatigue

Mental Health Foundation – https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/Uploads/MHF-Quick-facts-and-stats-FINAL.pdf

https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/beyondblue_workplaceroi_finalreport_may-2014.pdf?sfvrsn=6

 

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