Are Employers Responsible for Employees’ Mental Health?

What do we mean by employees’ mental health? 

Understanding mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
There are a lot of discussions around mental health, but do we truly know what it encompasses?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn and work well, and contribute to their community”. 
High workloads, stressful, monotonous, or unclear work content, a toxic’ work culture, discrimination, and other situations can lead to stress, burnout, and overall poor mental health, which not only impacts the well-being of the individual but of the business as well. 
Indeed, we know that employees suffering from mental health issues have lower rates of productivity and increased absenteeism or even turnover rates. 
Recognizing triggers and risks
Some industries, departments, or specific positions can be more at risk than others, but there are some common situations that can have a negative impact on well-being and mental health at work. In a study requested by the EMPL Committee at the European parliament, entitled “Minimum health and safety requirements for the protection of mental health in the workplace”, some of the most common key triggers to look out for are listed:
  • Job content and the nature of the tasks (very complex or repetitive tasks) 
  • High workload and work intensity 
  • Micromanagement: Lack of autonomy 
  • Lack of work-life balance or flexibility
  • Isolation, discrimination, and lack of support 
All of these, for prolonged periods, are known to cause anxiety, stress, mental exhaustion, loss of interest, boredom, etc. And can have dangerous repercussions on the employee and the business.
So where does the responsibility of the employer start?


Do employers have legal obligations concerning the mental health of their employees? 

At the international level, the United Nations have a list of all standards relating to the right to physical and mental health listed in hierarchical order, but nothing specifically targeting mental health in the workplace. Something that WHO and ILO (World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization) have been calling for with the COVID crisis is shining a light on this new epidemic, estimating a loss of 12 billion workdays annually due to depression and anxiety.
At the European Union level, there are no clear regulations, mostly guidelines. That is why, depending on the country you are in, it is essential that you check in with your HR and legal departments to be up to date with the latest national legal requirements.
However, in most countries, employers do have legal obligations when it comes to the mental health of their staff, falling under the “Health and Safety Regulations.”. 
Those are usually all and/or some of the following:
  1. Duty of Care:
  • The duty of care is defined in many countries as the legal duty to provide a reasonable standard of care to your employees and to act in ways that protect their safety.
  • It typically covers areas such as:
    • Buildings and premises (providing a safe place to work)
    • Risk assessments, information, and training
    • Health and safety policy
    • Insurance
    • Welfare (providing amenities such as toilets and showers, clean air and water, adequate temperature and lighting, space, etc.)
    • Fire Safety
    • First aid
  1. Anti-Discrimination Laws
  • Most countries have anti-discrimination laws that, more and more often, now include mental health issues.
  1. Workplace Policies
  • Some jurisdictions might demand that companies have specific policies on mental health in the workplace.
  1. Working Time Regulations
  • The majority of countries have clear working time regulations in place, depending on the industry. Those are particularly important as workload and time flexibility so easily impact employee’s mental health.
If those legal requirements are not fulfilled or broken, employees can feel the need to act.

What actions can employees take against their employers if they feel that they have put their mental health at risk?

In the situation where an employee feels that their mental health has been put at risk in the workplace, here are some of the actions they could potentially choose to take depending on the degree of gravity and support put in place:

Seeking Medical Help

When the support put in place in the workplace does not respond to expectations or is not enough, seeking medical help outside the professional sphere is usually the next step.

Requesting Accommodations

If an employee has a diagnosed mental health condition, they may be entitled to request reasonable accommodations under disability laws. These accommodations could include changes in workload, flexible scheduling, or adjustments to their work environment.


If they feel like their situation is not being properly dealt with, employees can raise their concerns with their immediate supervisors, managers, or HR departments.


Trade Unions and Employee Representatives

If the workplace has a trade union or employee representatives, employees can seek assistance in addressing workplace issues, including those related to mental health.



If the employee’s concerns relate to illegal or unethical behavior by the employer that puts mental health at risk, they might be protected as whistleblowers under certain laws.


Legal Action

In the most extreme cases, employees can decide to take legal action against their employer.

Those actions can refer to discrimination complaints or health and safety complaints, for example.

Once again, it is important to remember that this will depend on the industry and the country in which your company is settled and operating.

How can employers support their employees?

In a previous article, we looked into the essentials for employers when it comes to supporting their team’s well-being and mental health.
Research and our own experience in the field show that those are the most important things to prioritize as a company when working on improving employees’ mental health and well-being at work:
  • Building the right culture: Being true to the “words on the wall” and aligned with the values on your website will immediately create a healthy work environment. In addition, making sure your leadership team models the right behaviors from the start will have positive repercussions throughout the whole team.
  • Celebrating diversity: Whether it is of ethnicity, gender, age, or background, by giving a spot for everyone at the table, you will enrich your company with greater knowledge, innovation, and collaboration, which will lead to a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
  • Welcome ideas and feedback: creating an environment in which anyone, regardless of their title or seniority, can bring up an idea and make suggestions for improvement without fear of being mocked and with the assurance they will be listened to.
  • Acknowledge individuals: teamwork is key, but people need to feel seen and recognized for who they are and what they bring to the table. Never pass on an opportunity to celebrate someone.
  • Demonstrate flexibility: A great way to acknowledge individuals is to understand we are all different. We all have our flaws and talents, and by showing a certain level of flexibility, whether it is in terms of hours, schedule, or setup, your team members will only respect you more if they feel understood.
  • Communicate clearly: sharing information freely and managing expectations are the premises of any healthy work environment. People need to feel they are involved and understand the ins and outs of what they are working for.
  • Invest in tools and training. There is no magic trick; mental health is a serious topic. A company can create the right settings to promote well-being at work, but this cannot solely be the responsibility of the HR departments, which have so much more to handle on a daily basis. That is why turning to tools created and run by or with mental health professionals is essential in the long run.


How does Siffi support the employer’s duty of care?

Siffi gives your employees the power to support their mental and emotional well-being on a day-to-day basis.
Siffi was born out of the observation that to tackle the rise of mental health issues in the workplace and their impact on businesses, the well-being of the employees should be considered an essential part of the structure of a company rather than a nice “add-on”. 
Siffi was created for companies that truly care. Not just to reduce turnover but to understand why employees leave and fix it.
Through the different offerings of the Siffi platform, a company can address many of its “obligations” as an employer when it comes to duty of care through on-demand counseling, 1-on-1 coaching and therapy, self-assessment and self-learning resources, meditation and mindfulness journeys, webinars, and group coaching, as well as actionable insights for HR professionals for better leadership decisions!
All of these and many more to come are simple but impactful ways to create a safety net when it comes to mental health issues in the workplace, reduce stigma around them, and help HR uncover the inner life of your organisation, which will lead to better decisions for the company and its employees.