Published On: Sat, Apr 25th, 2015

Mental Health Problems Lead To More Lawsuits Against Employers

There has been a dangerous taboo around the subject of mental health for a long time. We are slowly emerging from the darkness and shining a light on some of the troubles involved. We’re finally beginning to talk about depression, anxiety and other issues in a healthier way. The biggest killer of young men in our country, for example, is suicide. These shocking statistics are drawing attention to the very real problems associated with mental health.

Anxiety

For a long time, it has been hidden in the shadows and locked away. A more open environment will hopefully contribute to widened awareness. It will allow more sufferers to seek help and talk openly. It will help put mental illness on a level par with physical illnesses. However, there has been one unexpected consequence too. More lawsuits are now filed against employers with mental health citations. We investigated this phenomenon further.

The Health and Safety Act of 1974 significantly changed the way businesses operated. It put the health and safety of every employee squarely in the hands of employers. It meant that businesses were now liable for the wellbeing of their workers. If working in a hazardous environment, the company must provide provisions for their safety. If anyone is injured, the employer is to blame. Initially, this focused on physical injuries and illnesses that occurred as a direct result of labour. Because of this, claims soared (and continue to do so). This is now extending to the likes of depression and anxiety. As awareness of mental illness has increased, employees are using this law to sue employers.

So, what type of claims, exactly, are being filed. First of all, many workers are using personal injury law to hold employers liable. This personal injury could be the mental illness itself. Employees can cite stress, pressure and harassment in the workplace as a leading cause of mental illness. There are also cases of negligence and breach of care with regard to personal health. Employers are accountable for making provisions for workers with a disability or health problem. When they fail to deliver this duty of care, they can be taken to court.

It’s not just increased awareness of mental illness causing this rise. It’s also the current economic climate and workplace conditions. During the deep global recession, financial insecurity ran wild. The threat of layoffs and redundancy was rife, and it increased the pressure on employees. Not only that, but businesses themselves were stretched. Cuts were made, and more work was placed on employees. This dramatically increased levels of stress, leading to anxiety and depression.

The big trouble that employers have is that they are legally bound from asking about mental health. That is, before the employee is hired. Companies cannot discriminate on the basis of mental health issues, or any other issues for that matter. Once hired, they are implored to make provisions for that employee, but nothing can be done before hiring. The only thing businesses can do is provide the best possible environment for workers.

The increased awareness and acceptance of mental health issues is a wonderful step forward. However, as it moves on, businesses will have to adapt to this lifestyle.