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Employers' legal responsibilities

Workplaces have a legal responsibility to manage risks to mental wellbeing and mental health just like they do any other health and safety risk.

This includes making sure there’s no discrimination and taking steps to reduce work stress to prevent psychological harm.

They have a legal responsibility to adapt the way they organise things at work to help people who experience mental distress, such as by being more flexible with their working arrangements.

Discrimination

The Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 bans workplace discrimination against people on the grounds of:

  • psychological disability or impairment
  • psychiatric illness
  • experience of mental illness, or mental health problems.

This includes people who are already employed and those being recruited. That means it’s illegal to ask someone applying for a job about any disabilities and health problems, unless the job means they could be harmed or harm others.

The Human Rights Commission and Like Minds, Like Mine has information to help employees who feel they are being discriminated against.

Psychological harm

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 says businesses must take reasonably practicable steps to protect health and prevent harm at work, including psychological harm.

You can read what WorkSafe says about work-related healthand psychological health. Psychological harm can come from behaviours such as bullying, overwork and a lack of autonomy at work.

Several high-profile cases have seen compensation paid to employees for mentally unhealthy workplace practices. The cases are usually about severe, long-term practices the employer repeatedly ignored.

Other laws covering issues relating to workplace wellbeing and good workplace practices include:

  • Employment Relations Act 2000: Including the right to request flexible working arrangements, and general employer/employee requirements
  • Accident Compensation Amendment Act 2010
  • Parental Leave & Employment Protection Act 1987 & Amendment
  • NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990
  • Privacy Act 1993: Includes processes of disclosure and talking to others around return to work.
  • State Owned Enterprises Act 1986, State Sector Act 1988 and Local Government Act 2002 and amendments: Includes the need to be a good employer and show equal employment opportunity requirements for specific employers.

Getting help

Employer or employee representative groups, statutory agencies, employment lawyers and advisors can help. 

You can ask the Employers Association, DiversityWorks (formerly EEO Trust), your local Community Law Centre or Chamber of Commerce for guidance about mental wellbeing and the law.

 

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