Employers Should Share Employee Information to Avoid Serious Harm, Says ICO in New Mental Health Emergency Guide

“A situation in which you believe that someone is at risk of serious harm to themselves, or others, because of their mental health”. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), this is what constitutes a mental health crisis. 

Below, we scrutinise the ICO’s recent mental health emergency guide. We envisage how such crises may present themselves in the real world and discuss what employers should do to support their staff.

If you’re suffering with your mental health at work and your employer isn’t fulfilling their legal obligations, contact Redmans Solicitors. We are employment law specialists who can assess your situation before advising you on possible next steps.

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The ICO’s Mental Health Emergency Guide

According to the charity Mind, a quarter of people will experience a mental health problem each year. As such, the ICO has published a guide to help employers improve how they deal with mental health at work. 

As part of its objectives, the ICO defines when employers can disclose employee information, enabling them to confidently support staff in times of crisis. This could be crucial, particularly in light of data protection laws that may make employers hesitant to intervene.

The ICO states that when an employee is experiencing a mental health crisis, the employer should act promptly. Furthermore, they should disclose necessary and proportionate information to the relevant bodies. This could include emergency services like 999 or an appropriate health professional such as their local GP.

In addition, the mental health emergency guide suggests that there could be instances when notifying a next of kin may be appropriate. However, if the relationship with the next of kin is unknown, taking such measures is unlikely to be suitable. Therefore, the guide recommends employers apply their own judgement in each case.

Despite employers typically being required to act swiftly during an emergency, the guide also outlines the importance of policies. By planning ahead and implementing necessary steps, employers can provide effective mental health support for employees while remaining legally compliant.

What is a Mental Health Crisis?

Unfortunately, the mental health emergency guide does not provide specific details on what a crisis would look like. The ICO states that this is because each person exhibits varying symptoms. However, when considering its definition, potential examples could be anticipated.

In the introduction, we outlined that a mental health crisis could occur when it’s believed that someone is at risk of serious harm to themselves. Therefore, if a colleague seriously discusses contemplating suicide, it could signal the occurrence of such an event. 

Yet, the initial definition also addressed the possibility of harm to others. As a result, it’s crucial for employers to consider this when assessing the presence of a crisis.

Mental Health Support for Employees

When taking into account the ICO’s mental health emergency guide, two key elements come to light. First, employers mustn’t be afraid to disclose necessary information to the relevant bodies to support their employees. Second, employers should implement appropriate mental health policies to best prepare for a crisis.

Considering the first point, it’s essential that employers understand what “necessary and proportionate information” is. Moreover, it’s crucial they recognise which bodies are relevant in which circumstances. By fully comprehending each element, employers will enable themselves to take action quickly in times of emergency.

This seamlessly transitions to the second point, as employers who are well-prepared with meticulously crafted policies are more inclined to grasp the considerations mentioned above and act promptly. Hence, the sole remaining question is: What should the policy comprise?

Mental Health Emergency Guide – Employer Policy

Given that one of the guide’s focuses is promptly supplying the necessary information correctly, staff training is vital. In particular, it could be useful to train those expected to support individuals dealing with a mental health crisis. Incorporating this into the organisation’s policy ensures mental health first aiders are familiar with the required information and know whom to contact for swift action.

As part of the staff training, those responsible must understand what constitutes necessary information. This encompasses legal compliance, as although the guide advocates sharing information during emergencies, it doesn’t grant employers unrestricted access to an individual’s personal data. Therefore, the training should underscore the significance of identifying a lawful basis and special category condition before disclosing information.

Yet, to implement this policy, employers must inform their employees. They should outline that information sharing may occur in emergencies, specifying what and to whom. Additionally, they could encourage employees to update their next of kin information, ensuring it’s readily available if ever required.

Get Mental Health Help 

If an employee is struggling with their mental health, it’s important they seek help. Just as individuals see a doctor when they’re feeling ill, talking to someone about mental health can make a big difference. Among others, employees could contact an emergency mental health service like:

We hope this article has provided you with comprehensive insights into the ICO’s mental health emergency guide. Contact us now if you have any questions or believe your employer is breaching your rights. Redmans Solicitors are specialists in the employment law sector and can advise how you could proceed.

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