It’s common knowledge that mental ill health in the workplace is a global pandemic – and dads are not unaffected. So how can you deal with it legally?
In a BBC article from 2019, advocacy group Postpartum Support International reported that one in seven mothers, and one in ten fathers, will experience postpartum (after birth) depression.
Dads are entitled to two weeks statutory paternity leave. From personal experience this feels like just a few hours. It’s certainly an incredibly short period of time, given the sharp transition required when a baby is born.
Dads go back to work in the blink of an eye; sleep deprived, missing their new born child, wishing they could help the mother of their child and with additional financial responsibility in tow. Many new dads experience anxiety about leaving their new family at home and feel torn between competing responsibilities. Of course, if the mother of their child is suffering from depression, this makes the return to work even more challenging.
All of this can lead to dads lacking concentration at work – which can lead to reduced performance. Employers should regularly check in with all new parents, including dads, to see how they’re coping and what additional support can be provided. Being a dad does not excuse poor performance, but a good employer will look to understand the reasons behind any issues and concerns before taking formal action.
It’s also true that men find it more difficult to discuss mental ill health issues affecting them. Work and home life pressures can quickly build up and dads don’t tend to discuss these concerns as easily as many mums do. It’s true that men feel a pressure to keep going despite how they are feeling; this is, of course, also true of many mothers.
Some dads will take up the opportunity to have shared parental leave – where a mother and father share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. This works well for some parents and not for others – for instance there may be eligibility issues or the mum might not want to go back to work earlier than is necessary. However shared parental can definitely help dads have a longer period of time adjusting to life with a child before venturing back into the workplace.
Although not every dad’s job will facilitate it, hybrid working is likely to help many fathers, especially those with young children. Being able to support with school/nursery drop offs, or even just having the time to prepare breakfast, can significantly ease the burden. Personally, I think hybrid working is a change for good in the working world.
The Acas guide on promoting positive mental health at work defines mental health as ‘our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing; it affects how we think, feel and act and how we cope with the normal pressures of everyday life’.
From a legal standpoint, a person who is suffering from mental ill health may be ‘disabled’ for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. An employer needs to bear in mind the consequences of an employee being protected by the Equality Act 2010 and consider taking steps to help the employee – whether that’s making reasonable adjustments, regular 1-1 meetings or additional support with work matters. For many dads, receiving that additional support at the early stages of fatherhood will stand them in good stead in the short term – and will benefit both them and the employer in the long run.
Employers should think about training mental health champions, or appointing a mental health first aider. Having someone available who has been trained to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health illnesses and who can effectively guide a colleague towards the right support is a great resource.
Dads should feel empowered and able to speak up when they are feeling the pressure of being a dad and an employee. Employers should help in removing the stigma by being actively supportive, recognising the very real pressures on dads and taking an informal, empathetic approach to any concerns.
Andrew Willshire is an employment law expert at Paris Smith solicitors.