Stressed at Work? There’s Leave for That
Most of us are familiar with Work Health Safety requirements. The model laws aim to protect workers from harm by ensuring the safety of employees and reducing the risk of workplace insurance claims. Risk prevention strategies for physical injuries include: “Don’t run in the office. Avoid trip hazards. Bend your knees before you pick up that box.” But, what can employers do to mitigate mental illness at work?
Research from Black Dog Institute says depression and anxiety are now the world leading cause of long-term sick leave, leading to $200 million worth of workers comp claims on average per year in Australia alone. Psychological injuries are estimated to cost the economy $12 billion a year in lost productivity – from a combination of absenteeism and presenteeism (being at work, but unproductive). It’s therefore important for managers to be actively working and planning to reduce psychological illnesses at work, both to protect the emotional welfare of workers, as well as avoiding claims for ‘stress leave’.
Getting Comfortable Talking Mental Health
The conversation around mental health has come a long way in Australia, with an acceptance that mental disorders are now as common as the common cold. In the workplace, however, there is still a way to go until taking a ‘mental health day’ is as acceptable as having a sick day due to the flu. A good place to start is to de-stigmatise mental health issues in the workplace.
When someone thinks of ‘mental health’, many still think of people unable to function at a normal level of human capability. Fact is, there is no normal, and mental illness now affects one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 in any year.
Black Dog Institute suggests managers need to become comfortable talking about mental illness at work, because the black dog in the room is not going away any time soon.
Psychological injuries are estimated to cost the economy $12 billion a year in lost productivity
Under the National Employment Standards, full-time employees are entitled to take 10 days of paid personal/carer’s leave every year. The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the FW Act) states that employees can take this leave if they can’t work due to a ‘personal illness or personal injury’ – while the FW Act doesn’t specify in words, this includes a psychological illness or injury. So, employees may take paid leave for mental health reasons (as long as they provide reasonable evidence such as a doctor’s certificate). It’s important to note that workers are not legally required to disclose their mental health issues to their employer. In addition, under the FW Act an employer cannot take adverse action by discriminating against someone based on their mental health.
Claiming Workers Comp due to Stress
If an employee is experiencing work-related stress it could cause a mental health condition, and they may be entitled to claim workers’ compensation. Safe Work Australia says that over 7000 Australians every year are granted compensation for work-related mental health conditions. To make a successful claim in NSW, a worker would need to prove that their condition was caused by their employment (and was not as a result of their employer taking ‘reasonable management action’).
Managers need to become comfortable talking about mental illness at work, because the black dog in the room is not going away any time soon.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
Employers of course, would rather not have to pay out sick leave entitlements and workers comp claims if a person’s mental health can be managed preventatively.
Mental health is a huge topic to tackle in a blog piece, so the Black Dog Institute will be running a workshop free for CCER members on 20 May about workplace mental health.
The workshop will be looking at this issue from various HR perspectives including recognising and managing the mental health of workers, their safety and how their behaviours might impact workplaces, and what organisations can do to build a resilient workplace.
It’s a great opportunity to be proactive about workplace mental health and learn how to create a mentally healthy workplace that’s good for employers, employees – and for your business.
For more info and to register for the Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces workshop click here.
- Black Dog Institute fact sheet for mentally healthy workplaces https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/factsheets/workplacewellbeing.pdf
- Safe Work Australia: A Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties
- If you or someone you know needs support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.
Author: Jess Noble is a Project Officer at CCER
Published 28 January 2020