Duty of Care

There are many factors that will contribute to mental health problems. Not understanding these or listening to your workforce could prove to be very costly to the individual and the business.

Employers have a moral and legal duty of care to their employees and are in a powerful position to help change attitudes and offer a support system.

This means taking all the necessary steps to look after their health, safety, and wellbeing.

There is no one statute specifically and exclusively covering the issue of stress in the workplace. The law governing stress has, in the main, evolved from case law rather than legislation.

Examples of legislation which have a potential impact on this area include:

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • The disability discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
  • Fatal Accidents Act 1976

The complexity of mental health may seem a challenge for line management, who are often at the frontline of supporting colleagues and offering additional support, however with external support there is no reason your workplace cannot remain mentally healthy.

Any breach of health and safety regulations is as a criminal offence and as such, any company or individual manager found to be in breach of these health and safety regulations could face prosecution by the HSE. If found guilty, the company or person responsible could face a hefty fine or even imprisonment.

Factors affecting mental health

Internal factors affecting mental health:

  • Organisation changes; unclear roles/responsibilities; fear of redundancy

  • Changes in management and how messages are cascaded down through the ranks

  • High emotional, mental or physical demands and lack of recognition or feedback

  • Employee/Employer disputes and bullying

  • Heavy workloads; demanding deadlines & targets; challenging work hours

  • Redundancy insecurity - Impact on employees who have retained their position

External factors affecting mental health:

  • Bereavement

  • Relationship breakdown

  • Family problems

  • Debt

  • Health issues such as alcohol or substance abuse

  • Domestic violence

Failure to comply with the statutory duties imposed on employers can lead to criminal proceedings.
Additionally, employers may face civil actions if the common law ‘duty of care’ to safeguard their employees’ safety is breached.

Currently, employers are responsible for adhering to the HSE 6 Management Standards:

  • Demands: Issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment

  • Control: How much a person has in how they do their work

  • Support: This includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues

  • Relationships: Promoting positive work relationships to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour

  • Role: People understand their role within the organisation and the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles

  • Change: How organisational changes (large or small) are managed and communicated

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