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Managing Mental Health

Managers are having to manage employees with many different mental health issues and they are held responsible – we reviewed an article by Des McDermott in IRN. Des McDermott is a Barrister and previously worked as a HR Management Consultant.

The Germanwings air crash tragedy highlighted the difficulties in both knowing that, and managing, an employee who has mental health issues. The Germanwings tragedy happened on 24th march 2015 where a co-pilot intentionally crashed the plane. Andreas Lubitz had a history of depression and had delayed the renewal of his medical certificate.

1) Should a person with depression be placed in a position of high responsibility?
Depression affects more than 450,000 people in Ireland at any one time so this is an issue that is near impossible to manage. Depression is being treated much more effectively and the social stigma associated with mental disorders is removing. However, depression can lead to very serious outcomes (including suicide). Some positions need very careful medical assessment to assure the employer that there are no mental health risks.
2) Discrimination: It is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability and a wide range of mental health disorders are classified as disabilities, including stress, depression, anxiety, alcoholism and schizophrenia. Employers are obliged to make ‘reasonable accommodation’ for staff with disabilities, however an employer is not obliged to recruit, promote or retain an individual who refuses to be available to carry out the duties of the job. Also, and employer who is concerned about an employee has the right to send the individual for medical assessment.
3) Employee’s right to keep their health issues secret: Currently Irish legislation does not require a person to disclose that they have a disability. Employers are strongly advised to use the option of pre-employment medicals and medical referrals, if required, where the employee seems to be having either physical or mental difficulties or a second opinion is required.

Key points for employers:

a) Depression and mental disorders are extremely common and can be managed in many cases very well within the workplace
b) It is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability in employment
c) Employers should make ‘reasonable accommodation’ for staff with disabilities and there is help for employers both in advice and grants
d) However- no employer has to recruit, promote or retain a person in a position if they are not fully competent to do the job
e) As in 3) above an employer has the right to undertake a pre-employment medical and send an employee for a company medical assessment if concerned
f) Confidentiality is paramount
g) The right to privacy is qualified however and the employer has a duty of care to all his/her employees

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