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Stress And Depression In The Workplace

A recent article has claimed that Wales is becoming a nation “dependant on anti-depressants with prescriptions of some drugs rocketing by more than 100% in just the last six years”.

With the majority of a person’s waking day being either spent in work, travelling to work or thinking of work, it is fair to say that a main source of stress and anxiety can be from within the workplace.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in claims complaining of workplace bullying which has led to work related stress, which in turn can result in depression.

Stress and depression are always difficult to handle within the workplace as they cannot usually be detected as easily as other symptoms. As a result, they along with mental health issues are being labelled as the “silent epidemic”.

Employers need to be especially cautious when dealing with such issues particularly due to the potential of such conditions being classed as a disability. The definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010 is “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.”

The fact that depression can have such a debilitating effect on sufferers, coupled with the wide reaching definition of disability, mean many employers fall foul of such legislation, potentially resulting in discrimination.

As such, it is essential that employers be attentive to the mental health of their employees, and actively encourage employees to address any concerns that they may have at an early stage.

If an employee is absent from work and provides a sick note from a GP citing work related stress or depression, the employer should address matters immediately and not fall into the easy trap of “out of sight, out of mind”. The longer an employee remains absent from work due to such issues, the more difficult the situation becomes to resolve.

It is essential that the employer gets to the root of the employee’s problem, and looks to discuss the matter with the employee in question. A lack of support is a common cause of depression within the workplace and the employer should work with the employee in ensuring that their voice is being heard.

Obtaining a report from the employee’s GP or an independent Occupational Health Consultant is also a useful way for the employer to gain a better understanding of the employee’s condition and what can be done to assist the employee in returning to work.

Here are my 5 top tips for employers in tackling work related stress and depression:

  1. Encourage employees to approach you if they have any concerns – this can be strengthened by the implementation of a policy
  2. Ensure that all staff feel supported within the workplace
  3. Do not simply allow employees suffering from such issues to continue to be absent from work without attempting to strike up a discussion with them as to whether you can assist them in returning to work
  4. Keep record of any conversations that you have with the employee – ensuring you have a paper trail is essential, particularly if matters end up going to an Employment Tribunal.
  5. Get Advice – it is strongly recommended that you seek advice in handling such situations, particularly due to the danger of potentially falling foul of discrimination laws.

Luke Welsh is Head of Employment and Solicitor at Howells Solicitors, advising both employees and businesses. Luke can be contacted on 01792 410016 or luke.w@howellslegal.com.

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Luke Anthony Welsh

Head of Employment Law at Howells Solicitors
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