Mental health is a big focus for many reasons right now, and with September’s R U OK day and WHO’s World Mental Health Day coming up on October 10th, mental health in the workplace is also in the spotlight.

We have covered mental health topics in several previous blogs including Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace during COVID-19, Workplace Mental Health at Christmas, general Mental Health in the Workplace, and Managing Mental Health During the Performance Management Process.

Recently we have had several employers approach us with questions around how to deal with mental health issues and illness that has been disclosed or become apparent during their recruitment process. With statistics showing one in five Australians will experience mental health illness at some point during their adult life, it is important to consider ways to manage mental health disclosures during the recruitment process.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that employees are protected from discrimination based on mental health conditions under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). The legislation protects someone with a mental illness from discrimination during all aspects of employment, including the recruitment process.

Should candidates disclose mental health issues during the recruitment process?

Candidates are not legally required to disclose any mental health illness or issue to a potential employer unless they choose to. Given the stigma associated with mental health illness, it is understandable that many candidates choose to withhold disclosing any mental health issues prior to employment in fear of not being considered for the role. Mental illness or mental health conditions need to be treated like any other physical health concern. If there are concerns that the person’s poor mental health illness or issues may impact the candidate’s ability to perform the role, it is appropriate for the employer to query about the person’s mental health during the interview process. If the candidate does disclose a mental health illness or issue, they are protected by privacy laws and the interviewer must have permission from the person to record and document the information. This information cannot be shared or discussed with anyone outside of the interview without written consent from the person.

Pre-employment Medicals and Drug and Alcohol screens

Pre-employment medicals and drug and alcohol screens may reveal prescription drug use that is used to treat a mental health illness or issue. In some instances, prescription medication to treat some mental health illnesses and issues can test positive on a drug and alcohol screen. The candidate may have also disclosed this prescription medication on their drug and alcohol and pre-employment medical documents. In this instance, it would be appropriate for the employer to have a conversation with their prospective employee about any mental health illness or issues. This conversation may involve confirming their results with their appropriate medical professional and inviting the employee to discuss any requirements they may need perform the inherent requirements of the role.

Although a positive drug test which corelates with a prescribed medication may be valid, it is important to watch out for results that indicate overmedicating. On a drug and alcohol report, there are thresholds that identify the limit of each drug category and whether it is within a safe limit before being considered dangerous to the individual and others.

What can employers do if mental health issues come up during the recruitment process?

If a candidate discloses a mental health illness or issue, it is important to not discount their application based on their health disclosure, or any other disclosure where the decision to reject their application may be considered discriminatory.

Depending on the role and the requirements, and the characteristics of the condition, there may be some safety or practical considerations to take into account. Where the condition is well managed and does not require significant changes to the role nor additional support in the workplace, there is no valid reason to withdraw an offer or not progress an application.

How can employers be more aware of mental health concerns earlier?

Employers can request that all candidates complete an employment application form at the interview stage requesting them to disclose any illness or condition that may affect their ability to perform the inherent requirements of the role. Where a candidate has disclosed a mental health illness or issue and you are offering them a role, you may wish to ask them to complete a consent form that in the event of an emergency, the employer has the employee’s permission to contact and liaise with their medical professional/team. You may also have a meeting with them to talk about a care plan and what the best action to take in the event of a suspected or apparent flare up of their condition. It is important to communicate these matters with care, and demonstrate that you’re seeking to work with the person to ensure that they feel supported and comfortable in their new workplace.

Be open-minded and practical about mental health

Mental health issues can come up for any one and at any time.Seeking support and professional help is important. Where people have gone through this process, they are likely to be more self-aware of their needs and have strategies in place to deal with their health concerns.

Fostering a diverse workplace can include recruiting and supporting those who have experienced mental health issues, or live with a mental illness or condition. Like any other employee, when working in an inclusive and supportive environment, they can contribute to the organisation in many ways and through their experience with mental health, be in a position to support others in the team when and if issues arise.

If you’re an employer looking for assistance in developing positive mental health programs or managing mental health concerns in the workplace, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team, via the chat box here or calling us on 08 6150 0043.

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