Chris Moses: PM’s plan to tackle depression in the workplace

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Theresa May’s Shared Society initiative, which she announced on January 8, includes plans to create partnerships with employers to tackle mental health problems in the workplace, and in particular depression.

Currently depression is the biggest cause of lost working days in the UK, costing employers 11.7 million days per annum.

Small to medium sized employers can be particularly affected, as they often lack staff to cover sick leave, or don’t have procedures in place to manage employee illness.

Businesses in Lincolnshire are particularly vulnerable, due to the fact that most county employers fall into the SME category.

Depression potentially falls under the legal definition of a disability, which means many county employers could be on the receiving end of very expensive claims for disability discrimination.

This could happen if they dismiss, demote or treat an employee who suffers with the problem unfavourably, unless they have fully investigated the problem and made ‘reasonable’ adjustments to help accommodate the employee.

Employers faced with managing people with long term depression need clear procedures in place to guide managers through the process of investigating and accommodating depressed workers.

Most large and public sector employers probably have such procedures in place, however it is our experience in Lincolnshire that many SMEs are less likely to be in that position.

Effective procedures are not difficult to implement, and advice from organisations such as ACAS, is for managers to:

Conduct an investigatory meeting

Initially conduct an investigatory meeting with an employee who has depression, to find out whether or not the problem is a long term clinical illness and what the employer can do to support the worker.

Also to ask the employee for their consent to request a medical report from their doctor.

Medical report

The purpose of the medical report would be to find out:

  • What the employee’s formal diagnosis is and if it is likely to affect their ability to do their job for a period of 12 or more months.
  • What reasonable support and assistance the employer can provide to help the worker, such as changing working hours, change of duties.

Second meeting

Following receipt of the doctor’s report, the employer needs to conduct a second meeting with the employee, to discuss the contents of the report and investigate whether the employee would benefit from:

  • Being moved to alternative work.
  • Adapting their job to remove areas which are not compatible with their health.
  • Adjusting their working environment or hours to help them attend work.

Act on recommendations

If the doctor’s recommendation involves reducing hours of work, job title, or some other action, which could affect the employee’s terms and conditions of employment, the medical advice must be followed as soon as possible.

The employee’s terms and conditions, such as pay, would be adjusted to match the new post following a notice period of one week for every year of employment, or their contractual notice period, whichever is longer.

External help

Employers should also consider using external sources of help such as the Job Centre’s Disability Employment Advisers.

Access to Work is another government initiative which supports employees in work with both practical and financial support.