The Legalities Of Workplace Mental Health

WORDS: Genevieve Colling- Oasis Mind Body PHOTOGRAPHY Kampus Production

Is it time to reframe the way we see mental health in the workplace?

Do you view mental health at work as something little that a business should consider? Do you think it’s over-exaggerated and doesn’t need to be given much attention? Think again.

Think of your workplace when you consider the following:

  • Are people isolated when working remotely?
  • Do employees have clear job clarity and support?
  • Is change management handled appropriately?
  • Do staff get appropriately rewarded or recognised?
  • Are there regular conflicts or poor workplace interactions?
  • Is there any harassment, bullying or aggression in your workplace?

These are just some of the 14 psychosocial hazards that are now part of Australia’s Work Health & Safety Legislation. If the term psychosocial hazard is new to you, and you own, run or manage a business/entity, then I recommend you keep reading.

A psychosocial hazard is essentially a workplace stressor; it is anything that could cause psychological harm (e.g. harm someone’s mental health) and can occur as a result of anything from workplace design to management or staff interactions. In 2022 the Australian Work Health and Safety legislation was updated to include 14 clearly defined psychosocial hazards. Throughout 2023, the Commonwealth and most states/territories now have a regulation or Code of Conduct on psychosocial hazards that are enforceable by law.

So, what does this mean for your business?

Any person conducting a business must eliminate or minimise the risk of psychosocial hazards in their workplace. The revised legislation, regulation and code makes it very clear to organisations what is required. Safe Work Australia has comprehensively outlined the common psychosocial hazards at work in their document ‘Model Code of Practice: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work’, a document that is beneficial to become acquainted with.

Some individuals or organisations that are yet to embrace this ever-important area may question why this is necessary or important for their organisation. The evidence is resoundingly clear – claims for psychological injury have shown to not only cost more but also involve more time to resolve than physical injury claims. In fact, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners state that the time to return to work is three times longer for work-related mental health than those with physical injuries. Despite knowing this, we are seeing an increase in the number of work-related psychological injury claims.

Statistically, the cost of mental health on Australian workplaces is staggering:

  • 2 days/worker lost due to stress
  • Over $10 billion in stress-related compensation claims each year
  • 75% of all compensation claims are due to psychosocial hazards (50% work pressure, 25% harassment and bullying)
  • GPs estimate 25% of their patients need support for anxiety or depression
  • Mental health is the third biggest health problem in Australia, after heart disease and cancer

Given that we spend a third of our lives at work on average, then take into consideration the number of hours we sleep… and that leaves us with precious time left. Wouldn’t we want to operate and work in an environment that is mentally healthy?

Understanding the impact and risk of harm from these hazards is critical, and research continuously demonstrates that investing in the health and well-being of employees benefits a business in many ways, including the bottom line. With sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) now an inherent part of doing business, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) is the next evolution.  EST is becoming increasingly popular as it measures parts of a business that were traditionally unmeasurable, with psychological health and safety now able to be measured.

In today’s world of business, mental health should not only be considered because it is now law in Australia – it also makes good business sense. Perhaps it’s time to reframe the way we see mental health in the workplace: an asset to invest in, rather than an expense.

Genevieve is a registered psychologist and founder of Oasis Mind Body.  You can find out more at or via her socials @oasismindbody.