Author: Jane Wheeler
I was flattered to be asked today to do an interview for a news programme about mental health in the workplace in light of the tragic story of the nurse who committed suicide following his dismissal from an NHS Trust. Unfortunately, the interview was cancelled at the last minute – but the request for the interview prompted me to reflect on the significance of this event for employers.
The enquiry into what had happened at the NHS Trust found that the nurse had been unfairly dismissed. It found that there had been a series of fundamental flaws in the disciplinary process, with (amongst other things) the investigating officer having raised questions about the nurse’s integrity on the basis of little or no evidence. The incident highlights the impact not only of mental health in the workplace but also of the problems that can arise when employers fail to follow their internal processes robustly. Where the consequences (as here) of not following a robust disciplinary process are that the person undergoing the process may be unable to practice their chosen profession again, there is even more of an obligation to ensure that the process is rigorous.
Was the NHS Trust aware that the nurse had depression whilst the disciplinary process was ongoing? Mental health conditions can be disabilities under the Equality Act 2010. If the employer is made aware (or could be reasonably expected to know) that the employee has a disability then the employer is obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the disability. There is no obligation on an employee to be open about a mental health condition – but discussion and openness can mean that the employer and employee engage and explore ways to manage the condition in the workplace.
What I have noticed through getting to know organisations in the wellbeing space over the past few years and through speaking at events like ”Wellbeing at Work”, is the positive impact that senior and influential people have in the workplace when they are open about their experiences with mental health. What organisations need to do more of is create the right environment and culture of openness to encourage people at all levels to feel comfortable to express when they are struggling. Perhaps that would have made a difference in this case.