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Should you offer specialist mental health support for staff?

Trish Embley tells HRNews how the mental health of remote workers can be supported

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  • Transcript

    Are you doing enough to support employees' mental health when they are working remotely? What's required to comply with legal duties in these Covid-times? These are some the questions being asked of right now with so many staff working from home and struggling, and it an issue covered in the CIPD's latest publication which came out just last week called 'Covid-19 Employer's Response Guide'. The headline is: 'What should employer's be doing in current situation?  and it reminds employers 'you have a statutory and common law duty of care for people’s health and safety at work and you should do everything in your power to support people either remaining at home or taking necessary precautions in the workplace, taking account of legal obligations'. But what does that mean in practice? There are some clues on page 6 – so:  'listen to people's concerns', 'communicate regularly', 'signpost employees to further advice or support, such as employee assistance programmes and any other well-being resources you have available' and 'consider providing counselling for those employees who are particularly anxious.' Doubtless that is good advice but are those steps legal requirements because many employers don't offer anything more than Occupational Health support. So what about specialist help such as counselling, CBT and the like? Required or not? It's a question I put to Trish Embley who joined me by video link from Birmingham: 

    Trish Embley: “At the moment, generally speaking, there isn't any sort of strict legal duty for an employer to fund or provide therapies such as CBT to assist somebody who has a mental health problem but looking at it from a best practice point of view, and something that might assist both the individual and the organisation, I think the first thing to note is that when you're setting reasonable adjustments, in terms of what adjustments are required, the more you can show a tribunal that you've cast your net wide the better. So yes, obviously speaking to the GP, speaking to Occupational Health, but other more specialist practitioners can only be to the good. Then we come on to what's reasonable? Now, obviously here, it's not the be all end all but costs can be a factor. Employers might want to think about the difficulties that we often see when you have someone with a mental health problem and you want to encourage a return to work but because of the mental health problem, the anxiety, that is a very scary prospect, particularly at the moment, we've all got used to be in our safe comfort zones of our homes and sometimes the thought of going back to work, particularly if there are memories of the mental health crisis, that was the last thing that happened, or their last memory of work, it can be really, really difficult. That's a big hurdle for people to overcome, going back to work can be frightening and this is where the assistance of something like CBT could really help the individual because, of course, if we don't secure a return to work, ultimately what a lawyer would advise is that you're looking at a capability dismissal. Now, that's a really sad outcome both for the individual and the organisation that's losing that talent. So I can see where, although not as strict legal requirement in every case, how a little bit of an investment in these sorts of therapies to get over these difficulties to encourage the return to work could benefit both the employer and the employee."

    Joe Glavina: "A lot of employers will immediately think of the obvious support offered by Occupational Health and they'll assume that would be enough to satisfy their legal duty. Would they be right?"

    Trish Embley: "Well in many cases Occupational Health is a great resource and they will be able to provide the support that the employee needs but there are a number of areas, and I know neurodiversity is one of these, where you need specialist help. So diagnosing things like autism and Asperger's can be a very specialist area. So I think at the very least employers should check with their Occupational Health services and what they're able to provide and how specialist that is because in some of the more severe cases it may be worth the investment of getting that specialist help over and above what is available through your occupational health services."

    On 11 March we will be running an interactive online workshop on this area. It is called ‘Reasonable adjustments for mental health - remote workers'. Three 50 minute sessions running from 10am to 1pm and you can book a place from the website – we have put a link to that page in the transcript of this programme for you. We have also put a link to the CIPD's publication - 'Covid-19 Employer's Response Guide'.


    - Link to online training course on 11 March 2020:  ‘Reasonable adjustments for mental health - remote workers'
    - Link to CIPD's 'Covid-19 Employer's Response Guide'.


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