Employment lawyers at DLA Piper say COVID-19 has led to an increased focus on the mental health of employees.
They say that while it is too soon to know the full extent of the psychological and mental health ramifications of the pandemic, it is likely to be significant.
A report published by the firm’s employment group urges businesses who have not addressed workplace mental health, recently or at all, to review and audit their wellbeing strategies to ensure that they are meeting the needs of the business.
“A proactive approach to mental health challenges should not fetter the ability of managers to run the business,” says the firm’s head of employment in Ireland Ciara McLoughlin.
She says workplace wellbeing programmes are not just the right thing to do, they are also smart business. “Employees benefit from access to support, and employers benefit from reduced absence levels and increased productivity as well as a positive employer brand,” she says.
The DLA Piper report points out that there are a number of legal risks which can arise for employers whose employees have poor mental health.
“Although the new openness around mental health at work is undoubtedly positive, a downside is that this change in culture may also lead to employees being more willing to complain when their employer hasn’t been sensitive to their mental health needs,” it says.
The report urges employers to take a number of key actions, including providing training tailored for those at different levels of the organisation, nominating a board member or senior individual to be responsible for workplace mental health, and reviewing policies and procedures on areas such as disciplinary matters and grievances.
The report also says managers must be trained to address situations involving allegations of bullying and harassment “quickly and robustly”, as these bring high risks of a negative workplace impact, reputational damage and legal action.