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Your Duty As An Employer For Staff Mental Health

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As an employer, you will understand the differing expectations that your workplace must comply with under Health and Safety legislation. It is quite common to have certain Health and Safety practices and strategies in place, whether it is hand sanitiser due to a virus or a handrail down the stairs. However, are you aware that this Act also covers mental strain and stressors caused by the Workplace?  This means that workplaces and you, as an employer, have a legal responsibility to manage the risks to mental wellbeing, just like any other physical risk. 

So What Is My Obligation?

Under the 2015 Health and Safety At Work Act, employers “conducting a business … [must] keep workers healthy and safe” with the emphasis on health equal to that of safety, this meaning employers must monitor workers’ health and working conditions to prevent physical and mental illness as a result of work. Therefore, as an employer, you must take reasonable steps to prevent psychological harm to protect the health and wellbeing of your staff. 

Psychological harm can happen in a variety of ways; bullying and harassment, long working hours causing fatigue, a lack of autonomy and poor work culture. For example, In the case of WorkSafe New Zealand v Michael Vining Contracting Ltd, an employee of Michael Vining Contracting Ltd (MVCL) had a fatal crash due to fatigue whilst driving his tractor home from work. Consequently, MCVL was charged with, “failing to ensure the safety of workers when they were at work” by, “exposing its workers to a risk of death or serious injury arising from fatigue.” and faced substantial fines.   

What Happens If I Do Not Listen?

Failing to abide by your duty as an employer to protect your employee’s health and safety can come with some heavy penalties, as seen above. South-East Asian countries such as South Korea have held managers criminally liable for creating and upholding environments that are damaging to employee mental health, punishments typically meaning jail time. These extreme measures were taken as amendments to the 1995 Mental Health Act,  to address a worrying trend in workplace suicides. 

Looking at examples a little closer to home, in 2016 a woman was awarded $1 million in a negotiated workplace bullying settlement she received while employed at a NSW Government Agency. The woman faced bullying and harassment from her bosses and suffered ‘a psychological injury’ as a result of continued bullying form an initial incident. So, I ask you - can your company afford to pay out settlements due to bullying and harassment, can it afford the bad press and loss of employees? 

If the answer above is a no, then as an employer you can take active steps to ensure that your company never gets to this position, rather than being reactive. 

Where To Get Help

Introducing, chnnl, an application focused on the anonymous measurement and tracking of employees’ mental well-being. Providing a channel for employees and employers to access mental health and wellbeing support anonymously, chnnl is used by companies such as St John New Zealand and Auckland University of Technology to provide mental health and wellbeing services. chnnl works by asking employees to complete a short daily ‘check-in’ which evaluates mental health to give employers and overall view of their organisation - providing a starting point to measure Return On Investment of specific wellbeing strategies accurately. 

Dr Elizabeth Berryman is the founder and CEO of chnnl, who describes it as a tool to “help employers understand workers so management can make changes to improve mental wellness and reduce anxiety”. On the app, employees can access a vast range of resources, such as counselling, Facebook groups and crisis helplines  - however, can also anonymously report on disturbances in employee’s peace such as bullying and harassment. The ultimate aim of chnnl is to provide a safe and anonymous place for employees to access resources for their mental health and wellbeing and an opportunity for employers to invest in tools that actively support the psychological affairs of their ‘human capital’. 

So, why not take the first step in protecting your company from possible legal consequences as a result of negligent protection of employee mental health and contact the team at chnnl today!