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The mental well-being of employees during the pandemic

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With Mental Health Awareness Week falling in the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic, it is appropriate consideration is given to  the  mental well-being of employees working through the pandemic, and the responsibilities of employers.

If an employer is found to be in breach of their obligations, for example by failing to provide protective equipment, and an employee contracts coronavirus as a result of this breach, then the employer is responsible, both for the physical injuries, and also for any connected psychological injuries. Once a breach is identified, an employer cannot avoid responsibility by arguing the psychological injury was not foreseeable.

But what if an employer is not in breach of their statutory obligations, but an employee still pursues a claim for stress at work associated with working through these difficult circumstances?

The answer is that potentially an employer could be held responsible even  in the absence of any specific breach, but steps can be taken by both parties to avoid this.

The key points are as follows:-

  1. An employer’s duty is only triggered once they knew or ought to have known of any impending harm.
  2. An employer is not expected to constantly question or probe an employee as to their mental health or well-being.
  3. An employer is entitled to assume all employees are of reasonable fortitude.
  4. Once impending harm is identified an employer is only expected to take steps that would actually do some good in the context of available resources.

What we can take away from this, is the importance of communication.

As an employee, if you are struggling, bring it to the attention of your employer. Putting a brave face on things is not always the answer, especially as your employer is entitled to take what you say at face value.

As an employer, set up a confidential system whereby employees can feel comfortable airing their concerns and keep an eye out for increased absenteeism or sick leave.