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Mental Health & the Workplace: Legal considerations for employers & employees

Written by Reccy Midigo

During Mental Health Awareness month, many employees posted on LinkedIn about struggling with their mental health.  While everyone’s experience is different, a common theme in these LinkedIn posts was how work-related stress was a significant contributor to the decline of people’s mental health. This is not surprising. A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Absence Management survey reported that stress leading to mental health and personal issues is often caused by workload, work relationships, and workplace management style. The following article examines why work often causes mental health issues, how employers can address these issues, and the reasons why addressing mental health in the workplace is beneficial for both employers and employees. 

What is mental health?

The first step to addressing mental health issues in the workplace, is understanding what mental health is. 

While there are numerous definitions for mental health, Acas defines it as : ‘our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing’ which ‘affects how we think, feel and act and how we cope with the normal pressures of everyday life.’ Mental health is often affected by stress, which is defined by HSE as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.  When a person experiences too much stress, this often leads to mental health issues.  Mental Health issues can become a disability recognised by law if they are sufficiently serious and long term and  create a mental  impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities (Section 6(1) of the Equality Act (EqA) 2010).  

Why is mental health a common issue in the workplace? 

The short answer is that mental health and wellbeing is not prioritised by businesses. In a 2019 study conducted by CIPD, only 1 in 10 organisations in the UK have a stand-alone Mental Health Policy for their employees and less than 50% of employers offer Mental Health Training. This is alarming given that around 30% of workers in the UK have had a formally diagnosed mental illness in their lifetime. This statistic does not account for those who suffer with mental health issues but have not received a formal diagnosis. 

Even for the few businesses that do provide mental health resources, mental health remains a key issue. This may be due to employers failing to provide a supportive and inclusive work culture where people struggling with their mental health feel comfortable coming forward about their mental health issues or concerns.  This can often lead to employees feeling isolated and disengaged, going off sick and even quitting their jobs.

Now more than ever, employees are looking for supportive workplaces where mental wellbeing is seen as a priority, not just in words but in actions too. 

How can employers address issues of mental health in the workplace?

The first and most important step to addressing mental health in the workplace is creating a safe and inclusive work culture in which employees feel safe and free to share that they are struggling with their mental health.  While employees are responsible for disclosing their mental health issues or mental illness if it affects their ability to work, employers are equally as responsible for ensuring that they do not contribute to or cause mental health issues for their employees. 

Mental health should be a focus for employers even at the recruitment stage. If a job seeker or employee has a mental health disability, they are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act (EqA) 2010. Section 60 of the EqA 2010 prevents employers from asking job applicants and recruits about their health unless it is central to the work being carried out. This includes asking questions relating to previous sickness absence because of a disability or health issue (EHRC Code para 10.5). Section 13 of the EqA 2010 prevents employers from engaging in direct discrimination (e.g., firing someone because they have a mental health disability) while Sections 19 EqA 2010 prevents employers from engaging in indirect discrimination against their employees (e.g., preventing staff from working part-time hours, resulting in a working parent being unable to care for their children). 

It is important for employers to understand that they have a duty to support employees who are suffering with their mental health. Section 20 and Schedule 8 of the EqA 2010  requires employers who become aware that an employee has a mental health disability to make reasonable adjustments so that the employee has the support they need to perform their job. This can include: 

  • Assigning the employee to a new role
  • Different work hours
  • Change in place of work or hybrid working
  • Modifying procedures (e.g., grievance, disciplinary etc.)
  • Alternative employment
  • Sickness absence with sick pay
  • Helping an employee stay or return to work 

While the law only requires these kinds of adjustments to be considered for a mental health disability, the best employers will be prepared to consider them for all employees whose mental health is impacted in some way.  Figuring out the best way to assist an employee with a mental health disability is often quite difficult, and that it is why it is important to work with HR, Occupational Health, and mental health service providers to implement effective mental health support and resources in the workplace. A great place to start is Altruists 2020 Guide to Developing an Effective Workplace Mental Health being Strategy.

However, equally important is speaking with an employment lawyer, to ensure that your work policies and procedures are in line with employment law.  This can be as simple as ensuring that you have a Mental Health Policy in your Company Handbook.  It can also include making sure that management are aware of the legal obligations regarding health and safety and making it an integral part of staff training and regular company audits. By taking these steps, you can help ensure that your employees receive the support and resources they need when they experience mental health issues. 

Why should employers address issues of mental health in the workplace?

The first and most important reason why employers need to address mental health issues in the workplace is that employers have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of their workforce. This includes the mental wellbeing of their staff. The key pieces of legislation which deal with mental health in the workplace are: 

Failing to address issues of mental health can lead to claims being brought by employees in the tort of negligence, or claims being brought to the Employment Tribunal. Not only are legal disputes a time-consuming process, but they often lead to huge financial costs for businesses such as paying legal fees and damages if the employee wins their claim.  

An example of this is the case of Dickens v O2 Plc in which Ms. Dickens, an employee of O2 Plc, was awarded £110,000 in damages because her employer did not address her mental health issues when she disclosed that she was ‘at the end of her tether’ because of the stress of work, and warned her employer that she did not know how long she could carry on . Relying on Sutherland v Hattonthe employer argued that because they offered their employees a confidential advice service which could refer employees for counselling and other assistance, they had not breached their duty to Ms. Dickens. However, the court dismissed this argument. They explained that in cases where an employee has severe symptoms caused by stress at work and warns their employer that they do not know how long they can carry on, offering the employee counselling is not a sufficient response. This demonstrates that employers need to provide resources and support that adequately address the degree of a mental health illness or crisis their employee is experiencing. 

Other than avoiding legal disputes with employees, there are many other reasons why addressing mental health is important for businesses. Altruist, which is a company that provides mental health training and resources in workplaces and schools, have found that the benefits of implementing mental health measures include: 

  • Less absence from work: Mental illness is one of the top 3 causes of short-term absence in the workplace and often leads to long term absence. 
  • Retention of staff: Around 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year. According to an Oxford Economics study, the average cost of replacing a staff member is £30,614 per year. 
  • Decrease in financial loss to the business: Mental Health related presenteeism costs employers around £4,058 per employee per year and absenteeism costs employers around £522 per employee per year. 
  • Better staff performance: Managing mental health leads to improved engagement and reduced costs. Research shows that when employees have resources and support, they outperform their targets by 17%.

Addressing mental health issues in the workplace is not an easy or straightforward process because mental health issues are not always obvious or visible. However, employers must take the necessary steps to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff. As discussed, this should start with offering mental health resources and support which those who are struggling with mental health issues can easily access. Employers should then do their best to make reasonable adjustments for employees with mental illnesses or disabilities – what is reasonable will depend on the nature and impact of the illness. Doing so not only protects the business from time consuming and costly legal battles but also decreases absences while improving staff performance, engagement and staff retention.  This goes to show that when you invest in the wellbeing of your employees, you are also investing the wellbeing of your business. 

If you would like to learn more about how you can address issues of mental health in your workplace, feel free to get in touch with our Employment Law & HR specialist, Liz Burley.  

Mental health awareness week

This week marks Mental Health Awareness week. With an awareness of mental health rapidly increasing in the workplace, it is important for employers to understand their legal duties in relation to the mental health of their employees and workers.

How is Mental Health legally defined?

Mental health does not have a legal definition but ACAS defines it as “our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing; it affects how we think, feel and act and how we cope with the normal pressures of everyday life”

A mental health impairment could command the legal status of a disability the Equality Act 2010 (EQA 2010) if it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. 

This definition is broad and can cover a wide range of impairments relating to mental functioning including clinical depression as well as neurodiverse conditions such as bipolar disorder, autism and ADHD.

What are the legal protections at work under the EQA?

Employees and workers with a mental health condition which meets the legal definition of disability are protected from discrimination (in other words less favourable treatment) in the workplace and employers are under a positive duty to make “reasonable adjustments” for them in certain circumstances. This could include adjustments to their workload, hours of work, or working environment.

It is important for employees and workers to understand their legal rights in relation to mental health so that they can receive appropriate support from their employer in managing a disability in the workplace.

It is equally important for employers to understand what constitutes a mental health disability and what support they may be required by law to provide for an employee or worker who has a diagnosed mental health impairment or neurodiverse condition.

Are other legal protections available for mental health?

Employers are under a general legal duty to look after the health and safety of all of their employees and this includes their mental health. Exposing an employee to excessive workload or stress can cause injury to mental health for which an employer could be held legally liable.

While many employees often focus on the psychical health and safety of their staff, mental health can be neglected at significant cost to both the employer and the employee.

For more information on mental health and how it affects employers and employees, stay tuned to our page. We will be posting some helpful information and resources this week for employers and employees who want to learn about how mental health affects the workplace.

Virtual Round Table – Material Transfer Agreements and more…

On Wednesday 16 March 2022, Burley Law hosted a virtual University Round Table focussing on Material Transfer Agreements and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.  

We had a really great turnout and it was amazing to see so many familiar (virtual) faces as well as some new attendees!  We would like to thank you all for taking time out of your day to share your thoughts and knowledge on the topics in discussion. 

It is always fascinating to hear a range of viewpoints and expertise from practitioners, whilst the Burley Law team contributed perspectives from IP and HR angles. 

If you are involved in university innovation and collaboration and would like to attend our next virtual round table or suggest topics for future events, please contact us.

Tis the Season – 3 Christmas inventions that have shaped Christmas traditions

With the holidays approaching, people have started flocking to shops to purchase presents, Christmas lights, tinsel, crackers, and candy canes.  While intellectual property isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Christmas, without certain Christmas inventions Christmas might look a little different than it does today.  In keeping with the holiday spirit, here’s a short list of some very important Christmas inventions:

  • Christmas Lights

The Christmas tree, which is probably the most popular Christmas symbol, would be nothing without Christmas lights which turn a plain old tree into a magical Christmas center piece. Traditionally candles were used to light up Christmas trees, but since candles are a fire hazard, inventors such as Edward Johnson created Christmas tree lights. These lights soon became a popular marketing technique used by shop owners to attract customers into their shops. However, the lights soon found their way into people’s homes after the NOMA Electric Company started mass producing strings of multi-colour lights which are now used to light up trees in houses all around the globe.

  • Gift Wrapping Paper

Nothing beats waking up early on Christmas Day to open Christmas presents!  This tradition would be nothing without the invention of gift wrapping, as half the thrill is not knowing what’s wrapped inside.  Although gifts were traditionally wrapped with writing paper, Hy-Sill Manufacturing Inc., was the first company to produce wrapping paper specifically for gifts. Now retail giants like Hallmark, who started producing wrapping paper in 1917, supply wrapping paper to millions of consumers around the world each year.

  • Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

Although Rudolph is a well-known Christmas character today, you won’t find him in traditional Christmas stories about Santa and his reindeer.  Rudolph is the creation of a copywriter called Robert May, who in 1939 made up the character while writing a Christmas story for a department store.  The story, which has since been adapted into a song, was inspired by May’s childhood experiences and the story of the Ugly Duckling. [1]

Although these inventions are decades old and have become a part of how we celebrate Christmas, there continues to be new inventions and creations with Christmas in mind.  Currently there are patents for new Christmas items which focus on making certain Christmas activities easier such as the snowman making apparatus, and the brussels sprout stripper.  Other inventions continue to focus on safety, such as the Christmas tree fire extinguisher  which aims to reduce the amount of house fires caused by Christmas tree lights.  A new and interesting patent invented by Christopher Eves is the 3-way Christmas cracker which ensure that no one gets left out when there’s an odd number of people at Christmas dinner.  Although these creative ideas aim to make the holidays and safer and easier experience, only time will tell if these new inventions will become an integral part of how people celebrate Christmas.

So although, you might not have ever considered the importance of certain Christmas inventions, these creations are proof that intellectual property has a role in shaping holiday traditions and making Christmas celebrations a fun a safe experience!

Happy Christmas from Burley Law.

[1] https://lanpdt.com/christmas-inventions/

Side Eye Chloe

If you keep up with the news or just like to know what is current in the crypto-based world, you will have heard about the new craze that is non-fungible tokens (nfts for short). These are unique digital assets that utilise blockchain technology, i.e. A digital ledger which stores transactions and ownership of nfts. Many nfts are part of the Ethereum blockchains, a cryptocurrency which supports nfts.

How is this different to buying the physical form of something and what is the point?

In short, it allows buyers to own the original content but unlike physical forms which can be stolen or plagiarised, the blockchain technology notes down the exact time a transaction is made and creates a unique code which only the owner now has, in turn, making fakes harder to circulate. Copies can be made of the content but the NFT unique code represents a form of true ownership of the work.

What is being sold?

Basically, anything digital – be it digital art, collectables, or visual content – even ‘Side Eye Chloe’, an internet meme which has had more than 20 million views on youtube, recently sold as an NFT for around £54,000 – and shockingly that’s not even a lot in the newly popular world of nfts.  Back in 2013 the video sees a young girl, Chloe, and her sister reacting to a surprise trip to Disneyland.  Whilst her sister is elated, the two-year-old looks seemingly unimpressed with the revelation, a moment captured perfectly by her mother and now known as the ‘Side Eye Chloe’ meme. Chloe (or perhaps her mother) not only received a huge amount of cash from the meme, but she has also amassed more than 500,000 followers on Instagram and been hailed the ‘Queen of Everything’ on Tumblr.

What else is out there?

Whilst nfts have only recently gained popularity, especially during the global pandemic, this is not the first time digital content has sold for big bucks, in fact some have even sold for millions of dollars like Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, who sold his first Tweet for $2.9 million.  Memes haven’t done so bad either, for example, ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’ sold for £298,000 in April 2021, ‘Disaster Girl’ for $430,000 and ‘Nyan Cat’ sold for over $880,000.  Music artists have also been getting in on the action. The Kings of Leon have sold some of their original content as nfts for £1.4 million so far. Like all things though, there are some questionable goods on offer, take Logan Paul’s nfts as an example. His short video clips sell for up to $20,000 each, even though they are readily available on youtube FREE OF CHARGE!

Want to get in on the action?

If you have a meme which you want to sell, there are always risks with putting something online. Going viral can entail people using your content without your consent, mocking it or claiming it as their own. For creators happy accepting these possible downsides, there are huge opportunities to make some big money off their content through this new trend. Buyers can include extremely wealthy people who are willing to pay a lot for the content, for example, a collection of nfts by American digital artist Beeple sold for $69 million – so if you’re thinking about selling any of your work, you could strike it rich.

Virtual Round Table

We recently hosted a University IP Commercialisation virtual round table with a particular focus on university spin-out companies.  Topics discussed included:

  • Strategies for incentivising the spin-out management team;
  • Protecting the university’s interest – shareholder arrangements and university involvement; and
  • Applying revenue share policies to spin-outs

It was fantastic to see so many faces attend the event, albeit virtually – although hopefully in person soon, and we would like to give a special thank you to Richard Underwood, Managing Partner of niche corporate and commercial firm, Legal Clarity, who shared his expertise on the subject area.

We would also like to show our appreciation towards the attendees and their first-hand experiences and thoughts on the topics – as always we are fascinated by the variety of viewpoints expressed throughout the event and look forward to exploring other areas in future.  The Burley Law team also offered perspectives from both IP and HR angles on the topics.

University IP Commercialisation will always be an important driver in the world of innovation as research unearths new theories and inventions, and we will delve deeper into key issues in future events.

If this is an area of law which interests you be sure to attend our next virtual round table which will be in February 2022 please follow us or get in touch des@burleylaw.co.uk.

Help with legal disputes

We will represent you in your tribunal claim or other types of employment dispute. We know this may be daunting and challenging. We will be on your side, fighting your corner and focusing on the best possible outcome for you.  

Settlement agreements

We guide you through the process of negotiating an exit from your employment.

If a settlement agreement is offered by your employer you will be asked to take independent legal advice. We can provide that advice.

Advice on your employment situation

Whether you need advice and support with your contract of employment, grievance or disciplinary processes, whistleblowing or redundancy, we focus on finding a practical and cost-effective way through.

Tribunal claim costs

Costs information for bringing and defending claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal.

Note: all costs are subject to applicable VAT in addition.

We do not do any work involving Tribunal claims on a fixed fee or contingency (‘no win, no fee’) basis. We would usually charge on an hourly basis depending on the seniority of the fee earner, which in turn depends on the nature of the claim. This can range from £150 per hour for a paralegal to between £250 and £350 per hour for an experienced senior lawyer. Our fee earners range from junior paralegals to solicitors with many years’ experience of HR and employment work. Comprehensive information on the experience and qualifications those working on a case can be found in the ‘We are’ section of the website.

At the outset we will provide you will a written estimate of the costs that are likely to be involved, and we will keep you updated on costs at regular intervals as the matter progresses. We will ensure that the work is done by the most appropriate level of fee earner so that costs are well managed.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires solicitors to publish information about some of the services we provide. In our case we are required to publish cost information about advising and representing clients (employers and employees) in unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal claims in the Employment Tribunal.

It is important to point out that in many cases involving unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal, a settlement is reached before the claim reaches a final hearing. It is also important to point out that in employment tribunal claims costs are almost never recoverable from the opposing party.

Our pricing for bringing and defending claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal:

  • Simple case: £7,500-£12,500
  • Medium complexity case: £12,500-£20,000
  • High complexity case: £20,000-£30,000

Factors that could make a case more complex:

  • If it is necessary to make or defend applications to amend claims or to provide further information about an existing claim
  • Defending claims that are brought by litigants in person
  • Making or defending a costs application
  • Complex preliminary issues such as whether the claimant is disabled (if this is not agreed by the parties)
  • The number of witnesses and documents
  • If it is an automatic unfair dismissal claim e.g. if you are dismissed after blowing the whistle on your employer
  • Allegations of discrimination which are linked to the dismissal
  • Multiple parties


Disbursements are costs related to your matter that are payable to third parties, such as barrister’s (also referred to as ‘counsel’) fees. We handle the payment of the disbursements on your behalf to ensure a smoother process. If a barrister is instructed you will be responsible for their fees. Barristers are only instructed after discussion with you and cost estimates will be usually be obtained prior to them being instructed. A barrister’s fees typically range from £1,500 to £3,000 per day (depending on the seniority and experience of the advocate) for attending a Tribunal Hearing (including preparation) – in exceptional cases, this may be higher. We will usually recommend that you are represented by Counsel at a final hearing.

Key stages

The fees set out above cover all of the work in relation to the
following key stages of a claim:

  • Taking your initial instructions, reviewing the papers and advising you on merits and likely compensation (this is likely to be revisited throughout the matter and subject to change)
  • Entering into pre-claim conciliation where this is mandatory to explore whether a settlement can be reached
  • Preparing claim or response
  • Reviewing and advising on claim or response from other party
  • Exploring settlement and negotiating settlement throughout the process preparing or considering a schedule of loss
  • Preparing for (and attending) a Preliminary Hearing if relevant to the claim
  • Exchanging documents with the other party and agreeing a bundle of documents
  • Taking witness statements, drafting statements and agreeing
    their content with witnesses
  • Preparing bundle of documents
  • Reviewing and advising on the other party’s or parties’ witness statements
  • Agreeing a list of issues, a chronology and/or cast list
  • Preparation and attendance at Final Hearing, including instructions to Counsel
  • Regularly reviewing and advising on the merits of the claim as
    it progresses
  • Dealing with remedies if appropriate (if the claim succeeds at the Final Hearing)

The stages set out above are an indication and if some of stages above are not required, the costs will be reduced. You may wish to handle the claim yourself and only have our advice in relation to some of the stages, in order to manage your overall legal spend.

How long will my matter take?

The time that it takes from taking your initial instructions to the final resolution of your matter depends largely on the stage at which your case is resolved. If a settlement is reached during pre-claim conciliation, your case is likely to take up to 6 weeks. If your claim proceeds to a Final Hearing, your case is likely to take between 12-18 months but some cases could take longer.

This is just an estimate and we will of course be able to give you a more accurate timescale once we have more information and as the matter progresses.

Timescales can also be affected by factors outside our control such as the approach taken by the other party or parties and administrative delays in the Tribunal system. For example, there is currently a significant waiting time for correspondence to be answered by Tribunals due to the COVID pandemic.