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Disclosing suicidal thoughts: What are employers responsibilities?

on Tuesday, 20 July 2021. Posted in Commercial law, Legal

CEO of A City Law Firm Karen Holden’s guide on what organisations need to know when it comes to employees disclosing suicidal thoughts.

Disclosing suicidal thoughts: What are employers responsibilities?

CEO of A City Law Firm Karen Holden’s guide on what organisations need to know when it comes to employees disclosing suicidal thoughts.

According to the TUC, every year between 5,500 and 6,000 people in Britain end their own lives – more than three times the number of people who die in road traffic incidents. Suicide is a tough and uncomfortable topic for most; however, suicidal thoughts might accompany a variety of disabilities, medical conditions, or high stress situations, that might be linked to issues such as workplace stress, bullying or harassment. Sometimes it is linked to an existing mental health issue, but often there is an underlying cause such as a traumatic experience, personal, work, financial or health problems, or even a side effect of medication.

If you are experiencing these feelings, the first port of call is to get help. NHS services can be accessed by contacting your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department and ask for the contact details of the nearest crisis resolution team (CRT). You can also call 116 123 for the Samaritans helpline, whether for yourself or for advice on someone else.

Actions employees can take

 If an employee feels suicidal, discussing this subject with their employers or colleagues may be difficult. If they can find manager or HR personnel they trust, these conversations must be held confidential. Communication is key. Unless employers are told about a disability or feelings of depression or the fact maybe staff feel overloaded it’s hard for an employer to support and help, it can also not be held accountable.

The Equality Act 2020 provides employees with protection against discrimination on the grounds of the “protected characteristics” of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, and requires reasonable adjustments to avoid putting disabled people at a “substantial” disadvantage. To benefit from these protections and rights employees need to speak out. Having a support network can help and hopefully result in those in need getting the help they require.

Employers’ responsibilities

Employers have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment for its workers, and will therefore be obliged to provide support, and if possible, work with employees to help to resolve the situation. The scope of an employer’s duties is wide-ranging and covers all aspects of work under their control. 

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act both potentially apply if it can be shown that the suicide was a result of the employers’ actions. This means that employers must address any issues that may cause a worker to have suicidal thoughts, including workload, stress and bullying. Prevention is the best way to address this issue. 

Prevention

An employer can take various steps to help suicide prevention regardless of whether or not work is a major contributing cause of their mental health problems and depression. Communication and approachability are always encouraged. It is important to implement good employment policies and procedures. Employees should know who to talk to, be made comfortable about the confidentiality and more so that their job will be safe if they raise these issues. A guide and training for managers on how to address concerns of mental illness, suicidal thoughts or other incidents that can cause an employee anxiety is essential. It is also possible to address these issues within the wider occupational health and well-being policies. This is because a workplace that takes measures to prevent stress, gives workers an element of control. An open and honest approach to mental health is more likely to ensure that workers are comfortable raising issues and know that they will get support.

Hopefully this is something that employers will rarely encounter. However, the issue of suicide is an important one that must be considered by monitoring staff wellbeing, having clear processes and policies, offering a confidential support network and taking into account everyone is different and will react differently.

If you are worried about a colleague or employee but are unsure of what to do visit this page: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else/. If you feel that person is in immediate danger, you can call 116 123 to speak to a trained Samaritans volunteer. If that someone you are worried about has hurt themselves and you think their injuries are life-threatening, call an ambulance on 999. You can do this whether you are with them in person or not. You will need to be able to give a location.

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