Managing return to work

Confidentiality and Privacy

Once an employee has disclosed their mental health problem, it is vital that you discuss and agree with them exactly who else, if anyone, might need to know, and what information they need to be provided with.

You should also make the employee aware that anything you discuss with them about their mental health problem will be kept confidential, unless there is an immediate danger to the person or to others in withholding that information.

To reduce misunderstandings which could lead to fears of discrimination, you should make clear the purpose for which you request or require information about an employee’s mental health problem.

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Mental Health Legal Centre Inc.

"Workmates need some information if they are to welcome you back without worrying they'll say the wrong thing. Personally, in my organisation everything is all very 'hush hush' and when one of the staff went off on long-term sick, it made it more difficult when they returned as we weren't sure what was wrong, what to say and how we could help. Having said that, I appreciate telling people everything wouldn't feel right and wouldn't work and it is such a fine line, but from a workmate point of view....a little info would really put our minds at rest and help us understand what you might be going through."

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"In so many cases, managers or colleagues, they might think that there's a problem but they avoid it, they don't ask early enough. So by the time they do have the conversation, it's really difficult - people are on the back foot and it can get hostile. Managers need to be more proactive and have these conversations earlier. You can keep it low key, just check in with the person, ask them if they are getting the support they need."
HR Manager
*not her real name
"Work was my saving grace after recovering from my second bout of depression and anxiety. The routine, sense of purpose and achievement and the social interaction were pivotal in my recovery. My managers were amazing with their support and allowed me to ease back into the workplace by reducing my hours and responsibilities until I was confident and well enough to return to full hours. My colleagues respected my privacy and were genuinely pleased to have me back. No-one really asked me any difficult questions which was a relief as I was expecting the worst. I really believe that a well-supported workplace is essential to maintain a person's mental wellbeing."
Aged 31, Victoria
* not her real name
"Some employers think that if they accept that there is a problem, then that means they are accepting liability. Sometimes that stops them helping get employees into treatment. Actually they would be better off getting the person into treatment early - that's likely to reduce the risk of a stress claim. I recommend that where they can, employers offer to pay for two sessions of treatment without considering issues of liability."
Occupational Physician
*not her real name