What are employers’ legal responsibilities for mental health at work?

Employee Suffering Stress In The Workplace
Louise Fernand
Publish Date:
20 Sep 2023
Reading Time:
5 Mins

Creating a mentally healthy and productive workplace requires a holistic approach. Mental health training helps individuals practise self-care, manage stress, and maintain wellbeing.

Companies routinely consider first aid to protect the physical wellbeing of their staff, but mental health is rarely given the same thought. Offering this type of training reduces burnout, boosts productivity, and improves overall health.

By taking a positive approach to mental health awareness in the workplace, your organisation can benefit from:

  • more engaged and motivated staff
  • reduction in absence and associated costs
  • increased productivity and staff retention
  • improved professional reputation.
  • more satisfied customers.

What are employers’ legal responsibilities for mental health at work?

The law requires employers to tackle work-related stress. It's crucial to treat mental health in the workplace as your would first aid requirements within your organisation.

2024 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance introduces the inclusion of mental health within the first aid needs assessment to identify additional training, and references the six 'Core Standards' for managing mental health at work.

The core standards have been designed to help employers improve the mental health of their workplace and enable individuals with mental health conditions to thrive. Our Mental health at work courses are directly relevant to and reflect these recommended standards.


How can employers support mental health?

Employers have a mental health duty of care to protect workers from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. When it comes to mental health at work, employers have a number of legal responsibilities which include:

  • creating a safe and healthy work environment
  • preventing discrimination and harassment
  • accommodating employee’s mental health conditions and compliance with disability laws and regulations
  • promoting mental health and wellbeing.


Creating a safe and healthy work environment

Hybrid working is now the norm and so it’s never been so important to ensure that the working environment is as healthy as possible, both at home and at work. You should consider the following:

  • By creating an open environment in the workplace, employees will feel more comfortable in discussing their mental health.
  • Support your team both inside and outside of work.
  • Encourage your team to build their resilience to emotionally challenging situations.
  • Build relationships with external organisations to develop mental health plans.
  • Promote positive job roles and working environments.
  • Prioritise policy development and implementation.
  • Practically address the relevant risk factors relating to work-related stress.


Preventing discrimination and harassment

As an employer, you are legally obliged to not directly or indirectly discriminate negatively against employees based on their mental health. This can include unfavourable treatment and exclusion from opportunities. This applies to hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, or any other aspect of employment.


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Accommodating employees' mental health conditions and compliance with disability laws and regulations

All workers including trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners are legally entitled to reasonable adjustments to be made, to ensure that their mental health conditions are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.

Promoting mental health and wellbeing

In order to make a positive, lasting change in your workplace, it’s worth considering the investment into organisational mental health training and mental health awareness in the workplace. Access to mental health training helps improve leadership understanding, enables employees to build essential resilience skills, and builds the foundation for a more open and supportive workplace.

The British Red Cross offers six short, interactive Mental health at work courses which are designed to build both team and individual resilience and to help staff members return to and maintain a state of positive mental wellbeing. Training is available in face-to-face, virtual, and online training platforms.

By learning with us, you’ll benefit from the expertise of our teams in supporting people in emotionally challenging situations. The course content is based on the globally recognised CALMER psychosocial framework. The framework has been developed by the Red Cross’ psychosocial team and aims to support individuals during and after an emotionally challenging situation.

Confidentiality and privacy

It’s important to create an open environment in the workplace as not everyone will be open to discussing their mental health at work. More than half of UK employees feel uncomfortable disclosing mental health or psychological conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression, in the workplace.

The Data Protection Act 2018 requires employers to store personal information about their employees confidentially. In rare situations this confidentiality may need to be broken if an employer feels that a person is at risk to themselves or others. The organisation may have a policy in place which features the sharing of information with medical professionals.

By developing a clear picture of the mental health of your organisation, you’ll be able to:

  • Understand the factors that affect staff mental wellbeing in your workplace.
  • Identify what you’re already doing to support it.
  • Assess the impact your current approach is having.
  • Plan further improvements, enhance morale and increase productivity.


How can managers support employees’ mental health?

Leaders, managers and supervisors may encounter people in challenging mental health situations at work, and it’s important they have the knowledge and tools needed to recognise the signs of mental health problems along with supporting individuals and leading a resilient team. Our Mental health awareness for managers course includes discussions on stress and helps to develop strategies for building supportive relationships and implementing stress management policies. It emphasises the benefits of trust, effective teamwork, conflict resolution, and a supportive work environment.

With less than half of people feeling that they have the right tools to support their mental health at work, having access to the right support and training has never been so important. Your team can benefit from:

  • developing awareness of how to support themselves and others when faced with
  • difficult situations using a practical framework
  • managing stress and developing awareness of stress
  • optimising wellbeing at work and in their personal life
  • developing greater confidence when dealing with difficult situations.

If you're unsure how to implement a mental health at work strategy, our blog about supporting mental health in the workplace outlines some of the considerations and looks at the aspects your plan could include. 


How to support mental health at work

While mental health problems are common, most are mild, tend to be short-term and are usually successfully treated. Whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a duty of care to help their employees.

Mental health training can help employees become more aware of what can help or harm the wellbeing of themselves and others, whether this is at work or in the home.

But with never ending to-do lists it’s easy to put mental health training to the bottom. But it’s important to remember that it empowers individuals with the knowledge and skills to nurture their wellbeing, enhance resilience, and cultivate healthier relationships, leading to a happier team.

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