The concept of having a ‘Mental Health Day’ off work has been increasingly prominent in discussions surrounding employee health and wellness. While some employers may be skeptical, believing that some employees are simply seeking an additional day off, it’s essential to remember that mental health is as crucial to a person’s wellbeing as physical health. In fact, under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, mental health conditions that have a substantial adverse effect on a person’s daily life can be classified as disabilities. As employers, it is our responsibility to understand and appropriately respond to these needs.
Recognising the need for Mental Health Days:
Common mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and work-related stress, are significant contributors to absenteeism and decreased productivity. Thus, recognising and supporting employees’ mental health can improve not only individual well-being but also the overall performance of your business.
If an employee approaches you to request a mental health day, it is crucial to respond empathetically. Do not immediately discredit their need for a break. Instead, engage in a supportive dialogue, while ensuring the discussion does not veer into invasive or inappropriate territory.
Responding to the request:
Legally, employees in the UK have the right to sick leave if they are unwell, whether physically or mentally. Employers are required to provide Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for eligible employees who are unable to work due to their health for up to 28 weeks. This includes mental health days. SSP is only available to absent employees who:
- Have an employment contract
- Are unable to work for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days)
- Earn at least £123 a week before tax
- Have informed their workplace about their illness within an appropriate time (or 7 days if there is no time frame in place)
If you have any further enquiries about an employee’s eligibility for SSP, give us a call at 01527 909436.
When an employee requests a mental health day, treat this as you would a physical health issue. Avoid making judgements about the validity of their request. Under the law, you’re required to treat physical and mental illnesses the same way, and it’s important to maintain this stance to avoid potential allegations of discrimination.
If an employee is off work for more than seven days due to their mental health, they should provide a Statement of Fitness or a ‘sick note’ from a medical professional outlining their work capabilities. If their absence is less than seven days, you may ask for a self-certification during their ‘back to work’ interview.
Managing suspicion and potential misuse
While empathy and understanding are vital in managing employee mental health, it’s equally crucial to ensure that such policies are not exploited. As a business, one must strike a balance between acknowledging and respecting the need for ‘mental health days’, while also maintaining order and productivity within the organisation. It’s important to implement measures that actively support mental wellbeing in the workplace to minimise the necessity of ‘mental health days’. This might include introducing mindfulness sessions, providing training on stress management, or enabling flexible working arrangements.
It’s also understandable to be concerned about the potential misuse of mental health days. Here, open communication is key. Develop a clear policy around mental health days, including when and how often they can be taken, and how they should be requested. Ensure this policy is transparent and fair to all employees. Whilst being considerate is key, you must be careful to be not too lax about allowing employees their ‘mental health days’, otherwise there is a risk of them catching on and taking advantage of your leniency.
Encourage a workplace culture where mental health is taken seriously. By promoting awareness and understanding, employees will be less likely to misuse mental health days and more likely to seek genuine support when needed.
Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace
As employers, we can take steps to foster a supportive environment for mental health.
- Raise awareness: Encourage dialogues about mental health, helping employees understand the signs and impacts of mental health issues.
- Offer referrals: Provide information about available treatments for mental health conditions, from counselling to medication.
- Provide training: Mental health first aid courses can be invaluable in helping staff understand mental health and provide appropriate support to colleagues.
In a world where mental health issues are increasingly recognised and understood, it’s important for employers to adapt and show understanding and support. Treating ‘mental health days’ with the seriousness they deserve is not just a legal necessity but also a moral imperative. Creating a compassionate, understanding work environment is key to fostering employee wellbeing, enhancing productivity, and ultimately, driving business success.
If you need support with mental-health related staff absences in your organisation, drop us a call at 01527 909436.