An independent review of mental health at work, commissioned by the Prime Minister, has been published. The Stevenson/Farmer review calls on employers to adopt six mental health core standards covering mental health at work plans, employee awareness and open communication, healthy work life balance, effective people management, and monitoring of mental health and wellbeing. Further enhanced standards are recommended for companies with more than 500 employees, encompassing increased transparency and accountability and the provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help. The review also calls for Government action to set clearer expectations of employers through legislation and better enforcement, to encourage voluntary reporting by organisations on mental health, and to reform statutory sick pay to better support phased returns to work.

The Government has subsequently confirmed in its report ‘Improving lives’ that it will progress all of the recommendations in the Stevenson/Farmer review, including consulting on reforms to statutory sick pay. The work on SSP will include consideration of the recommendations in the Taylor Review on Modern Working Practices about SSP; these included suggestions that all workers should be eligible from day 1, that SSP should be accrued on length of service, and that there should be a right to return to the same or a similar job after a period of prolonged ill health. The Government’s report also states that it is exploring a number of options to extend protections from discrimination in the workplace, including through the Equality Act 2010, for people with mental health conditions and will make an announcement on these issues in due course.

The report confirms that the Government will change secondary legislation to extend fit note certification from GPs to other healthcare professionals. It notes that too many fit notes say ‘not fit for work’ and that few employees have been referred for the free occupational health assessment for sickness absence of at least 4 weeks. It has therefore announced that the Fit for Work referral and assessment service is to end from 15 December 2017, although the website and telephone advice line will remain available. The Government also intends to improve fit note training and commission the design of a set of clinical guidelines for workplace adjustments.

Updated Acas guidance on stress at work and mental health has also been published, available here. The guidance includes advice on how to spot signs of possible mental ill health or stress and recommends practical ways to approach the subject with staff and provide appropriate support. It suggests that managers should regularly ask team members ‘how they are doing’ and create an environment where staff feel able to be open and honest about how they are feeling.