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What can be done if an employee has a mental health problem?

When an individual suffers a mental health problem and must take time off work to recover, employers need to have a proactive and systematic approach to managing the issues and ensuring a safe return to work.  The main  elements of an effective approach are:

  1. Develop a policy on return to work – this should cover the procedures to be followed, the measures that can be taken and what happens if return to work is not possible
  2. Communicate the policy to everyone in the workplace – many RTW systems fail because of lack of awareness of procedures.  This can lead to suspicions of victimisation.
  3. Intervene early – when someone goes absent, communicate with them soon after.  Make it clear that the goal is to ensure a safe and timely return to work
  4. Make workplace accommodations – consider allowing the person work part time for a period, change the nature of the work that they do and do so in a flexible manner
  5. Develop a return to work plan together with the individual
  6. Monitor the return to work process – see if it is working and amend the process accordingly

These are general provisions that apply to absence from work for any health reason.  There are however, some special considerations that need to be taken into account when faced with mental health issues.  These include:

  • Consider holding mental health awareness training for all staff
  • Confidentiality
  • Ensuring that stress at work does not hinder recovery and return to work
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