Mental Health Leave

11 August 2022

All employers have a legal right to protect all workers in their care. But this doesn’t just mean their physical health, it also includes their mental health too.

When someone is going through a psychological illness, they could take time off to recover. This is known as mental health leave, and every employee should have access to it.

If you neglect to provide this form of leave, you could end up with discrimination claims and business damages.

In this guide, we’ll look at what mental health leave is, Ireland’s laws on sick leave, and how to support employees experiencing mental health conditions.

What is mental health leave?

Mental health leave is when an employee takes time off because of their psychological wellbeing.

This is an absence that all employees and should be treated in the same way as physical symptoms.

When it comes to this form of leave, the length of time off can vary. That’s because there are various different mental health conditions–each with their own kinds of symptoms.

So, when employees request time off for their mental health, it’s best practice to assess each case on an individual basis.

Mental health spelt out on wooden blocks.

Ireland’s laws on mental health leave

In Ireland, there is no specific employment law which outlines leave for poor mental health. However, there are legal regulations which mental health falls under.

Based on legal requirements, a mental health condition can be categorised as a disability. This is one of nine protected characteristics which cannot be discriminated against.

Under the Employment Equality Act 1998 - 2015, a mental health disability must:

  • Have a substantial adverse effect on an employee’s daily life.
  • Last for at least 12 months.
  • Affect an employee’s ability to perform daily activities.

If leave for a mental health disability is mismanaged, the employee could raise a disability discrimination claim. If the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) find you guilty, you may end up facing compensation fees and business damages.

Employee rights during mental health leave

During this time off, employees are entitled to several legal benefits. These benefits allow them to keep peace of mind regarding their personal and working lives during leave.

When an employee is on leave due to sick health, they should receive:

Statutory sick pay

The Sick Leave Act 2022 became law on 20th July 2022 and while it is not yet in effect, it will come into effect later this year. Therefore, it is important to note the new requirements and prepare in advance of the commencement. When employees are off sick, you will need to provide Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is a payment which financially supports them during this period of absence.

Remember, SSP will be provided to anyone on health-related leave – regardless of whether it relates to physical or mental health.

Once commenced, the SSP will introduce:

  • Paid sick leave for up to three days per year. (This is planned to increase to five days in 2024, 7 days in 2025, and 10 days in 2026).
  • Statutory sick payment of 70% of an employee’s normal wages. (This is capped at €110 per day).
  • The right to raise a complaint to the WRC if an employee is denied access to the SSP.
  • The employee must be working in the same establishment for at least 13 weeks.

Most employers will generally pay and support ill staff through some process. Many provide their own version of sick leave payment which is based on individual contractual terms.

Medical certificate

By Irish law, an employee is allowed to take time off due to the state of their mental health. And within reason, it can be applied at any time within reason.

If contracts state so, employees may need to provide a medical certificate. This is informally known as a ‘fit for work’ note.

These are certified by a professional healthcare provider, like a GP, nurse, or therapist. The note will outline a person’s health level and whether they’re capable of working.

If an employee’s mental health leave is for less than four days, they don’t need to provide a sick note. Instead, they can provide a self-certification which describes their sickness.

Return to work interview

If an employee feels well enough, they may decide to return to their job. They might decide themselves, or a doctor might provide evidence which showcases their capability.

When an employee decides to come back, you should host a ‘return to work’ interview. During this meeting, talk about the extent of their health. But remember, disclosing this information is not a legal requirement.

In other cases, an employee might decide to take further leave from their job. This might be because their illness has worsened. So, a healthcare provider may prescribe ‘rest’ as part of their recovery process.

Whatever you’ve established from the meeting, you can make changes to suit their situation. This will give the employee time to recover, without worrying about changes to their employment.

Elderly people holding hands.

Common mental health disorders

There are many different variations of a mental health illness. Most people might share similar symptoms or emotions like anxiety, depression, or confusion. Others might try to manage their condition by using intoxicants, like alcohol or drugs.

Some of the most common mental health disorders include:

Depression

Depression is an emotional mental health condition which makes a person feel increased levels of sadness or helplessness.

The condition can be diagnosed with many variations, like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and major depressive disorder.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a mental illness that most of us will have experienced at one point. It causes a person to go through uncontrollable levels of nervousness.

People can suffer from all sorts of triggers for anxiety; from talking in public to starting new tasks. Some of the most common forms of it include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness which relates to repetitiveness. People may suffer from uncontrollable actions, like repetitive thoughts, obsessions, and rituals.

OCD is medically considered a condition which comes under anxiety-related disorders. But here, the triggers and indicators can range to extreme and paralysing intensity.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health issue which affects more people than you’d think. A person might suffer from extreme levels of one emotion, straight onto another.

For example, a person can feel high levels of hopelessness (depression), straight to euphoria (hypomania)–all in one episode.

A man holding his head in distress.

How to manage mental health leave in the workplace

As an employer, it’s so important to ensure you protect all employees with mental health conditions. They should be able to raise any issues or concerns they’re facing – without hesitation.

If you create a workplace that supports anyone going through tough times, it will reflect through motivation, engagement, and respect.

Here are things to consider when managing mental health leave in the workplace:

Create a mental health leave policy

You can introduce a workplace policy which outlines information for mental health leave.

Remember, all health-related policies should outline your rules on dealing with physical and mental health issues.

A mental health leave policy may cover:

  • Methods for taking leave (for both short and long-term if applicable).
  • Ways of implementing support during recovery.
  • Process for returning to work.
  • Introducing mental health support (from senior members, colleagues, and the HR department)

Raise awareness for mental health

In the workplace, employees can face all sorts of triggers and incidents which can worsen their illness. That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness for mental health and wellbeing.

By raising awareness, you can help ensure employees understand mental health conditions and empathise with those suffering. Remember, if they’re neglected, it could impact their personal and professional lives – along with your business too.

So, be vocal about eliminating any form of mental health discrimination. And manage all stigma from colleagues or customers projecting it.

Build a safe and healthy workplace

All employers have a duty of care to protect their staff’s health, safety, and welfare. This is easily accomplished by building a safe and healthy work environment.

Start by carrying out risk assessments. This will help identify any problems you have in your workplace. It’ll also help you spot any early warning signs of a mental health issue.

But this is only applicable with the permission of the employee. After consent, you can apply changes to their personal workstations and practices.

Provide reasonable accommodation

When you have employees with health conditions of any kind, it’s very important to provide the right support and care. The best way to do this is by providing reasonable accommodations.

These are changes made to an employee’s contractual duties. Through changes, you can help the employee on a personal basis, and create a safer work-life experience for them.

Some of the most common accommodations include measures such as staggered hours, quiet workspaces, and shared responsibilities. Remember, reasonable accommodations are a legal requirement (within proportion). They’re given to employees who legally qualify for them. For example, anyone diagnosed with a health condition qualifies as a disability- physical or mental.

Keep regular communication during leave

Employers need to acknowledge every mental illness with individual support and care. So, talk to employees and understand their specific situation.

You can do this by keeping regular communication during their medical leave. That way you can provide the support they require it.

Remember, it’s not about bombarding them with messages and calls. Be respectful of the fact that this medical leave is for their recovery.

Over time, you’ll understand how they’re doing and if they might return to their job. Or on the opposite side, you can offer medical referrals if you think they need further support.

Outline your mental health support during onboarding

Many employees might choose to hide a medical condition–particularly if it’s mental health. So, outline your support from the get-go.

During your onboarding stages, make sure all candidates understand your business’s take on workplace culture and positive stance on employee wellbeing. Present this through your application forms and advertisements. And you can even provide this information during the interview stages.

By outlining these practices early on, candidates witness the ethos and culture of your business. And it’s this that’ll attract talented candidates–and keep them.

Get expert advice on mental health leave with Peninsula

Employers have a legal duty to aid and support anyone suffering from poor mental health. By doing so, you can protect their welfare (and your business) in the long run.

Remember, failing to support your employees can lead to detrimental consequences. Like, expensive fines and production losses, which are difficult for any business to recover from.

Peninsula offers expert advice on providing mental health leave. Our HR services can help you understand employee rights and absence management–helping you grow a happier and safer workspace. 

We also offer 24/7 HR advice that’s available 365 days a year. Get in contact with fully trained counsellors who are ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants. Contact 0844 891 0353

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