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Mental Health and Illness in the Workplace

30 May 2019

One in four people in New Zealand will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime. Already, mental illnesses are the leading cause of disabilities around the world, which means in Christchurch and across New Zealand, we’re going to see a rise in mental health issues in the workplace.

Brad McDonald, Partner at Godfreys Law has nearly twenty years’ experience in Christchurch’s employment law sector, advising both employers and employees.

In another article Brad outlines how the best protection for your business is a fit-for-purpose employment agreement, and how it can give you more options when it comes to managing difficult situations at work where mental illness is a factor. 

An Employer’s Responsibility

If you don’t have specific clauses in your employment agreement relating to mental health and mental illnesses, it’s your responsibility to become aware of what your rights and responsibilities are as an employer.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, WorkSafe and the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce provide good information around managing and dealing with stress, workplace bullying, plus how you should go about making HR decisions. Next, you need to start some extensive information gathering around the incident in question.

Think, Before You Act

It’s really important that in these situations where disruptions or bad behavior can make it tempting to take a knee-jerk reaction and launch a disciplinary process. It can be easy for that process to take over and set a juggernaut in motion. That’s a really dangerous trap to fall into. It’s understandable as employers want to resolve issues in their workplace and get on with the business of what they’re doing. However, dealing with mental illnesses in the workplace requires a far more nuanced approach to successfully manage it.

Given the predicted rise in mental health issues impacting workplaces around Christchurch, New Zealand and the world, it’s up to employers to start upskilling now. There is a wealth of information available from MBIE, WorkSafe and the Christchurch Employers’ Chamber of Commerce. The courts are already starting to see more employment claims coming through where mental health plays a factor. 

Promote Positive Mental Health

Awards being made against employers can be very disastrous for those who get it wrong, as well as the human cost for any undue suffering against employees already going through mental illness. New Zealand Law and the Courts are developing to meet these new challenges, and there are some good guidelines being set down by the Employment Courts in New Zealand, so we can get good outcomes for everyone involved.

We help employers around Canterbury and Christchurch manage a variety of employment and mental health issues. Our role is getting alongside you, guiding you through the process, and running it for you if you need us to. Godfreys Law can be your trusted advisor, giving you the right answers to those difficult employment questions.

If you want to know more about managing and responding to mental health issues in the workplace, contact the employment law team at Godfreys Law.

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