An employer’s duty of care to its employees

Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and we are living in uncertain times. Between health worries, working from home, furlough, home-schooling and the general economic fallout from the pandemic, it’s no wonder all this is taking a toll on our mental health.

There is a common law duty of care on all employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees at work. Employees who meet the definition of disabled pursuant to the Equality Act 2010 also confer on employers a positive obligation to make reasonable adjustments. 

The legal obligations haven’t changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. If anything, the duty of care to ensure the health and safety of employees in the workplace and the duty to make reasonable adjustments have intensified, with more employees suffering from mental, and sometime physical, health problems as a result of the outbreak. 

Below are some practical tips on protecting employees’ mental health in the workplace:

  • Consider providing mental health first aid training to identified managers.
  • Commit to valuing wellbeing and creating a mental health friendly culture. Consider providing mentoring or buddying schemes.
  • Make reasonable adjustments for those in need such as allowing changes to working patterns or amending duties.
  • Organise health and wellness programmes or workshops for all employees. Educating employees to look after themselves in key areas such as sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise. 
  • Checking in (rather than checking up!) on employees who may be working from home is strongly advised to provide support and to allow employees to share any concerns they have.

At CG we’ve seen a huge increase in queries from employers around mental health issues since the start of the pandemic. Being proactive and ensuring situations are managed well from the outset makes things easier for everyone in the long run.

As well as making business sense, supporting the mental health of employees is also essential for employers to avoid potential grievances, long term sickness issues and ultimately claims.

Promoting a mental health friendly culture and providing manager training should form part of any employers’ approach to employee welfare, global pandemic or not.

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