Content Warning: This post discusses mental health and suicide, if it raises any issues for you please seek help.  Lifeline 13 11 14 , Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.

  • Around 45% of Australian’s have, have had or will have a mental health issue in their lifetime.
  • 21% of serious mental health in the workplace claims are due to work pressure.
  • From a workplace safety point of view, psychological hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.
  • October 10 each year, is acknowledged as World Mental Health Day to encourage open conversation and remove the stigma.

Statistics show that around 45% of Australian’s will be impacted by a mental health concern at some point in their life, which means that of the people sitting around you right now – almost half are managing, have managed or will manage some type of mental health condition.

Mental health in the workplace is a serious concern, that comes with some serious costs.

The obvious costs for businesses can be tracked in term of work-cover claims, sick days and lost productivity; but also costs for the individual and society. In the worst case, it can cost someone their life.

A person’s workplace can have a large part to play in their mental health, with an increasing number of claims being made for work-related stress. Statistics from Safe Work Australia indicate 21% of serious mental health claims are due to work pressure.

Your Role as an Employer:

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace, but more importantly, a moral obligation to support a culture that is supportive of employee welfare. In order to achieve success, a strong culture is vital in any type of team environment.

The National Act defines ‘discrimination’ to include both direct and indirect discrimination. This means an employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments for a worker with a mental health condition may put them at risk of discrimination, even when on the face of it no ‘direct’ discrimination has occurred.

Workplace health and safety legislation requires employers to ensure that workplaces are both physically and mentally healthy for all employees. This means steps must be taken to ensure that the working environment does not:

  • harm their psychological well-being; or
  • aggravate an existing condition

Employers need to be aware that psychological hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace:

I am far from an expert on the complexities of mental health, but as a lawyer I have seen the fall-out from people being under extreme stress, as well as the consequences when workplaces don’t abide by the law.

Having an open conversation with your staff and alerting them to their rights under the various legislation, i.e. their right to privacy and a safe workplace, can help get the conversation started.

Implementing an anti-bullying policy and making it very clear this type of behaviour will not be tolerated will help foster a healthy environment for your team.

Take steps to provide options for employees to seek help, such as counselling services, and make these readily available.

Provide fair and reasonable breaks and encourage staff to take time away from their tasks to refresh their bodies and minds.

What Are Your Employees Rights?

Employees are not legally required to tell their employer about their mental health unless their condition has the potential to endanger their safety or that of their colleagues – for example, if their role involves operating machinery.

The Australia-wide Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and equivalent state and territory laws make it unlawful to discriminate against, harass or victimise people with disabilities.

The term ‘disability’ is broad in its definition and includes mental health conditions.

Everyone Has a Right to Privacy:

If an employee tells you they have a mental health condition – they have a right to privacy. Their right to privacy is covered by the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and similar legislation in some states and territories.

If someone tells as employer of their mental health condition, this information can not and should not be disclosed to anyone without their consent. This information can only be used for the express purpose for which it was told, such as adjusting the role or working environment.

It Impacts Everyone:

Recently, I spoke with Professor Andrew Conway as part of my podcast Accountants on Purpose. Prof. Conway, the CEO of the Institute of Public Accountants, has seen first-hand the impact on people’s emotional state when their financial situation is crumbling around them.

“As professional bodies we’ve got to get better at equipping professionals for those human interactions.”

As employers, as professionals, and as lawyers we are often the first to hear or see someone in distress – especially when a regulatory or legal matter has come up and they just can’t see a way out.

As professionals, leaders and managers, it’s our role and our duty to inform our employees and our clients that there is a way out, that they have been heard and someone is here to help them.

 You can listen to my conversation with Prof. Conway here.


Below are some useful resources that will give further insight into mental health:

Human Rights Commission

Safe Work Australia

You can read more on Mental Health in Australia from the Parliament of Australia library here. (updated Feb 2019)