Employers are being offered help to tackle mental ill-health among staff, which is now a leading cause of workplace absenteeism.

Commercial law firm Baines Wilson, based in Carlisle, has recorded a podcast where employment law partner Tom Scaife looks at the duties employers have and the practical steps they can take to help employees and minimise absence.

Mental ill-health is responsible for 70m lost working days in the UK each year at an estimated cost to businesses of £2.4billion, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

Tom said: “Mental ill-health had overtaken musculoskeletal issues as the biggest cause of absence in the workplace even before the pandemic.

“Covid added uncertainty, worries about health, worries about jobs, worries about loved ones, isolation.

“It created this cauldron whereby everybody’s mental health has been brought into sharp focus.”

He warns that mental ill-health can be deemed a disability under the Equality Act 2010, requiring employers to make reasonable adjustments, and he urges businesses to promote an open culture where employees with mental health issues can raise them without fear of stigma.

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Tom said: “There is still a stigma.

“I think that arises from a misplaced conception that it’s a sign of weakness to have mental ill-health.

“It’s a sickness, a condition, in the same way as a physical illness is.

“It might not be as apparent, immediately, so employers need to have mechanisms in place as to how they identify it.

“Creating a culture of openness starts with relationships between colleagues.

“It also expands to relationships with line managers so line managers need to be open to having these discussions, which aren’t always easy.

“That support network can be the difference between it deteriorating into a worse situation where you lose an employee for a significant period of time.

“It’s a cliché but prevention is better than cure.

“Early intervention, undoubtedly, has a massive impact on absence rates.”

The podcast covers the warning signs employers should look out for, for example an employee becoming withdrawn, irritability, erratic behaviour or changes in the way they communicate with colleagues.

It also covers sources of advice, training for staff and how to manage absence and flexible-working requests.

Tom’s podcast is part of a new series, Baines Explains, in which legal experts from Baines Wilson help businesses navigate tricky legal issues.

Others cover the menopause in the workplace, dispute resolution, commercial property and insolvency, shareholder agreements and commercial contracts.

They are available to download free from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean, Google Podcasts and other podcast platforms.
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