WORKPLACE MENTAL HEALTH: Another reason to support, rather than stigmatise, our people who self-report personal issues and seek our help.
While not specifically on mental health (but rather as a case concerning a victim of domestic violence it is absolutely analogous), in this recent case the Fair Work Commission found a dismissal to be unfair because of the terrible extenuating circumstances of the employee. The failure to involve HR also weighed badly against the employer – a law firm ;-( – which was aware of her personal issues but nonetheless failed to properly warn her of the potential consequences or at least even attempt to support her through her personal issues causing the alleged misconduct.
Like the earlier examples of the cases we have been following, the employee was frequently late, had poor attendance and failed to properly notify absences. While this was a “valid reason”, the termination was still harsh because it was disproportionate to the extent of the personal issues faced by the employee. The FWC was at pains to point out that it is up to employers to ask the right questions and create policies which enable employees to manage difficult personal circumstances without facing stigmatisation. If an employer makes the decision to terminate employment before giving an employee the chance to explain the factors affecting their capacity or conduct (or worse still is aware of the issues but pays no regard to them as reasons mitigating behaviour), they are at significant risk of legal consequences.
Again though, in our view it shouldn’t just be legal consequences that necessarily motivate us – rather this really should be about our values. If we are going to encourage our people to self-report, we need to be prepared to create an environment where it is safe to do so. Granted that this is not without limit, but a preparedness to be meaningful is surely what principled HR is all about.