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Employer obligations to create a mentally healthy workplace

February 25, 2016


It is Monday morning and your employee has called in sick. They don’t sound unwell, and when you saw them on Friday they seemed perfectly healthy. The next day their doctor’s certificate just says “unfit for work” but you really don’t believe that they were. Can you push back and question their doctor’s certificate?

Questioning their doctor’s certificate wouldn’t be seen as questioning your employee, but rather is essentially accusing the doctor of a fraudulent certificate. Employers need to remember that even if your employee looks healthy and injury-free, they could in fact be suffering from a mental health issue or mental illness. Perhaps their workload has caught up to them and they might not be coping, they might have had a disagreement with a coworker and the thought of seeing that person again is causing them anxiety, or they might be dealing with non-work related issues at home and they can’t bring themselves to come into work.

Mental health in the Australian Workforce

Did you know that mental illness costs the Australian economy over $20 billion a year? Research has shown that the majority of people feel unsupported when mentally unwell, and less than half of managers (around 43 percent) have an understanding of mental illness.

The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance is a national approach by business, community and government to encourage Australian workplaces to become mentally healthy for the benefit of the whole community and businesses, big and small. The Alliance seeks to promote the benefit of businesses taking active steps to promote and create mentally healthy workplaces.

Do you have an active EAP service to offer your employees?

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work based support program aimed to enhance the emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing of all employees (and can include services for immediate family members). An EAP program aims to provide interventions for the early detection/resolution of both family/personal and work based problems that might adversely affect performance and wellbeing. This includes, but is not limited to relationship problems, depression, anxiety, addictions, financial issues etc. In the event your employee is struggling with any work related or home related problems, your EAP can provide that employee with counselling services or general advice which is completely free of charge for your employee.

Although mental illness is a difficult issue to deal with, both as an employer but also as an employee, there are ways to direct your employee to seek help if you don’t believe they are fit for work. If your employee presents for work in a state that you believe is not fit for work, you can offer EAP to that employee (offer to bring a counsellor in) or if they physically look harmed (potentially self-harming) there are steps you can take to direct them to see a psychologist or counsellor external to your EAP provider.

HR Assured is able to offer advice and assistance is working together with your employees to ensure a healthy work environment, as well as managing stresses and anxieties experienced by your staff. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today on 02 9083 0083 or why not join us at one of our events.