21 September marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week https://www.nzherald.co.nz/health/news/article.cfm?c_id=204&objectid=12364989 which turns our attention to mental health within the workplace – the place where many of us spend a large proportion of our waking time.

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 employers have a duty to ensure a safe workplace for their employees.  Whilst many think of this to be PPE and physical hazard reduction this also encompasses the health and wellbeing of employees in the work place. 

We look at this from two topical perspectives in this blog  – firstly, in the context of Covid-19 and the corresponding lockdowns in New Zealand.  These events have placed a level of pressure unprecedented many people, as families and whanau are experiencing financial and personal pressures and anxieties. Fatigue and burnout can also be a frequent contributor to company attrition.  It is important that workplaces are actively engaging in open dialogue with their employees to try to understand pressure points and how they, as employers, can assist.  Many employers are looking to engaging the services of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) for their employees to utilise, however employers need to be proactive by enabling open conversations with their employees.

Secondly, recent media has also shone a spotlight on harassment within the workplace in some prominent NZ organisations.  The impact on an individual experiencing bullying or harassment within the workplace can have a long lasting impact and may give rise to a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000.   Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 it may be considered a breach of duty to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety so far as reasonably practicable. 

In the case of Mitchell v Eastland Group Ltd (2012) NZERA Auckland 175, the Employment Relations Authority stated that the definition of workplace bullying might be personal or supervisory/managerial harassment, characterised by repeated and persistent behaviour such that the recipient suffers detrimental effects to their feeling of safety, wellbeing and general enjoyment of the work environment.

Having robust policies and procedures in place to support individuals and to enable a safe working environment help to mitigate risk to the organisation and provide clear guidance to employees who feel that their mental health is being impacted.  Contact us for an obligation free discussion on how we can be of assistance.

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