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Small business urged to prioritise mental health

Managers in small businesses are at risk of suffering from potential compensation backlash if they fail to implement sufficient measures to address mental health at the workplace, say one lawyer.

Small business urged to prioritise mental health
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Kemp Law managing director Michael Kemp said larger companies often had a list of policies in place to ensure employees were taken care of - an area that small businesses often neglected.

“A lot of small employers won’t have [those policies] but large companies have systems where they have all these certain policies that must be met to ensure that these things don’t happen,” said Mr Kemp.

“There is an obligation of employers to implement comprehensive measures and support mechanisms for their employees, no matter what industry. If an injury occurs and reasonable steps weren’t taken to avoid said injury, the employee potentially has a claim.”

Policies such as harassment, mediation, and termination protocols are some steps small businesses can implement to prevent any consequences, added Mr Kemp.

Last year, Safe Work Australia reported that a typical claim payment for mental stress amounted to over $18,000 per claim and resulted in 9.4 weeks off work.

Small businesses neglecting mental health may also suffer from a loss in productivity, with the condition costing Australian employers $10.9 billion every year, according to a beyondblue study.

Mr Kemp says work-related stressors are one of the main reasons many Australian workers develop psychological illnesses, including conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and claims can extend across a wide spectrum of disciplines.

“Many employees will experience workplace stressors during their careers, no matter what field,” Mr Kemp said.

“Whether you’re in a high pressure environment like a military serviceperson or a paramedic, or work in an office and have to deal with ongoing emotional trauma from an increased workload or an overpowering boss – most of the time stress goes unnoticed.”

Small business owners at greater risk

“There are a number of aspects that are associated with a small business owner that we can safely say puts them at greater risk of developing a mental health condition,” said beyondblue’s head of workplace research and development, Nick Arvanitis.

“Things like working very long hours, feeling a sense of social isolation which generally speaking we know is a risk factor for developing a mental health condition, and not having access to support that a manager would have in a large organisation.

“As a small business owner you need to be thinking what sort of supports and advice and expertise you need in order to run a successful small business and to look after your own mental health.”

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has also urged small business owners to prioritise mental health for the success of their business.

“It can be tough starting and growing a small business. Often the hours are long, cash can be tight and you have to constantly overcome obstacles,” Ms Carnell said.

“The results of our payment times inquiry found the stress of late payments, cash flow and debt affected the wellbeing of more than three-quarters of small business owners surveyed.”

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