Looking out for and tackling stress and depression should be a year round task for employers, says Tim Lang, of Black Country law firm George Green
Mr Lang, partner and head of employment at the firm, says with almost three in every ten workers estimated to have a mental health problem in any year, employers underestimate the cost of depression.
"Recent studies have found people suffering from depression take an average of 30 days off for each absence spell," said Mr Lang. "This can place an almost intolerable burden on any business."
Employers can take a pro-active approach to spotting depression, which can help employees and their business.
He said: "Employers are often reluctant to broach the subject of stress at work and depression, for fear of where it might lead, but they should foster a culture and introduce practices which encourage employees to be comfortable with confronting mental health issues.
"After any absence, employers should conduct a back to work interview. Many employers do not realise just how deeply they can question employees about the reason for the absence and, if it as a result of an illness, what lines of enquiry they can legitimately pursue.
"They can ask what employers may consider personal questions about the illness, family history, what treatment is being undertaken and by whom. Such questioning though, makes it much easier for an employer to help an individual who is genuinely ill, maybe by suggesting they seek treatment from a GP or company doctor, by changing work patterns, moving to a less demanding job, or allowing them time off for treatment, all of which are better than having an employee who takes further sick leave.
"This pro-active approach helps employers identify and deal with employees who have no genuine reason for absence." and start the disciplinary procedure leading to a possible dismissal.
"Having policies and procedures for absence reporting in place means that employers can take swift action, especially when they see a pattern emerging."