Bridging The Gap: Inclusion Of Mental Health Into Labour Regime
Bridging The Gap: Inclusion Of Mental Health Into Labour Regime

Bridging The Gap: Inclusion Of Mental Health Into Labour Regime

This article has been written by Prakhar Dubey, 3rd year law student at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun


Workers are provided with compensation whenever they suffer from any injury during employment. The Judiciary has interpreted the statute liberally to expand the meaning of “injury,” “employment,” and “workplace” to include different factors like depression or anxiety-related issues due to workplace stress for providing compensation to the employees/workmen which arise in the course of employment. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines  “personal injury” to mean, any harm or damage to the health of an employee, however, caused, whether by accident, disease or otherwise, which arises in the course of and out of his employment and incapacitates him in whole or in part.”

Among the plethora of conflicts faced by the modern world, the increasing problem nowadays is mental health. COVID-19, the pandemic, has been among the significant reasons causing mental health repercussions, along with causing physical issues. Thus, it becomes essential for different organizations to comply adequately with increasing mental health problems. Against this background, this blog examines the concept of “accident and injury” as defined in statutes like the Employees Compensation Act of 1923, the Employee State Insurance Act of 1948, and the Workmen Compensation Act of 1923 to see whether the term compensation includes mental health as part of the course of employment or not.

This blog begins with explaining the legal provision and interpreting the nature of the course of employment to understand whether the ‘mental injury’ aspect is included. Subsequently, we analyse the model followed in the countries like the UK and the US to understand the lessons that India can learn from them. Lastly, the authors have presented a conclusion with possible recommendations to make the condition of the workplace conducive for the employee.

Understanding the Legal Provisions

In India, there are three legislations that mention personal injury, namely Section 3 of the Employee Compensation Act, 1923, Section 2(8) of the Employee State Insurance Act, 1948, and Section 3 of the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923. They lay down a mandate on the employer to compensate the employee in case any employee suffers from any personal injury which occurs because of any accident which may or may not be in the course of employment. The latest legislation, i.e., Code on Social Security, 2020, is to be given massive credit for consolidating the above two laws. The two conditions that result in any employer providing compensation to any employee in case of personal injury are accident or an occupational disease. Another legislation, the Occupation Safety and Health Code has three schedules which lay down a list of notifiable diseases. The benefit for any mental health can only be reaped if it can be proved that this illness has resulted in death or total or partial disablement which lasts for more than three days, and this accident must arise during the course of employment.

A. Interpretation of ‘accident’ to explore the nature of the mental illness.

The Labour Code of India shows the value of the welfare state, and they usually prescribe judgements in favour of awarding compensation unless there is express evidence to the contrary, which may be presented from the employer’s side. As per Section 74 of the Code on Social Security 2020, the requirement for receiving a successful claim for compensation prescribes that there should be a personal injury to a worker which must arise in or out of the course of employment. The major problem that this legislation faces is the need to define the term ‘injury’ or ‘accident’, and it leaves the interpretation in the hands of the judiciary.

Chapter V of the Occupation, Safety, Health, and Working Condition Act, 2020 states various conditions that are necessary to be undertaken by the employer in his establishments, such as health, safety, and working conditions for the employees as may be prescribed by the Central Government but this ignores the aspect of mental health to employee working in an establishment.

A.1 Can we consider Mental Health problems as a part of personal injury?

Personal injury should be construed broadly to include all kinds of damage, including physical and mental injury, which may be accidental or arise during employment. Mental injury is any form of mental exhaustion, mental tension, or psychological disease, but this also requires a condition that such mental health problems must arise out of and during employment. In the case of Santan Fernandes v. BP (India) Ltd, the Bombay High Court held that any death which occurs from heat stroke would be considered as a part of personal injury, and the term personal injury does not mean only physical injury, but it also takes into consideration mental injury as well include mental disease, sunstroke, nervous collapse,traumatic neurosis, hysterical paralysis, neurasthenia, etc. Any accident is an unforeseeable event, and thus any accident that any employee suffers during employment must also be unexpected. The employee must not be negligent themselves whenever they meet with an accident.

A.2 Whether mental health disorders can arise out of the course of employment?

Accident always refers to a chain of events, however, in the case of mental it is the contrary as it is linked to a different chain of events which can lead to the mental breakdown of an employee to meet the welfare object of the labour legislation this aspect of mental injury needs to be carefully examined. Even the Constitution of India under Article 21 states the right to livelihood to all citizens. Thus, Persons Living with Mental Illness (PLMIs) are no different. The essential factor must be looked at while considering the nature of employment is to look at the place of employment, at what time the accident arose and the time when the employee was at working hours, the continuation of the period of employment, and the nature of risk undertaken as compared to the hazard incidental to work allocated. On measuring these nodal points in terms of mental health, it becomes difficult to connect the nature of work and their psychological state.

B. Position of Law existing in the US and the UK

B.1 Taking a lesson from the UK

The UK, on account of growing awareness on mental health and the increase in subsequent cases, demands are being raised to treat physical illness equivalent to mental health. This led the UK to take an unprecedented step in publishing the ‘Thriving at Work’ report, which will take a degree in formulating Core Standards’ according to which employers have to take positive steps in promoting the mental health of the worker. Some actions include designing a work plan and shaping a proper mechanism to look after the workplace. These measures can help promote the well-being of employees at the workplace.

In the case of Hatton v. Sutherland, the Court devised a test for employer liability for any stress that arises to the worker at the workplace. In this case, the court said employers should know appropriately about employees. The test devised is based on foreseeability, and it should include various factors, which include the nature of work done by the employee, reasonable demand which is made from the end worker, industry practice, and personality of work which can lead to sickness and any other work which can harm the health of the employee. People suffering from mental stigma are sceptical about sharing their suffering with employers. Thus, it becomes the employer’s responsibility to keep the work atmosphere lively to ensure that the work remains productive.

B.2 The US Approach

In the US, two classic tests have been developed to set the liability on the employer. This test becomes effective if a situation becomes stressful for an employee. First is the unusual stress test, and second is the objective causal-connection test. Both these mental test injury into consideration providing compensation as part of the employment. If stress is unusual, the test doesn’t apply to normal days. To claim mental injury compensation, it must be linked to an extraordinary situation, different from daily stress. The casual-connection test asserts that workplace stress is recognized. It compares the impact of employment conditions on mental health to non-employment. Both tests consider labour and mental suffering seriously.

Conclusion and Recommendation

The situation in India is not affirmative because of problems like unemployment, quality of income, hunger, and poverty, etc. among these, there are other problems like mental health, which is not given much attention, and with COVID-19, the situation has aggravated more where there is a loss of work, i.e., people are losing their jobs, lockdown resulting in a case where people have to work from home, resulting in no face to face interaction which is mentally exhausting and talking about work in India mental health of the worker is not considered a serious issue. Thus, an urgent step is the need of the hour.

Recently the government has consolidated 13 labour codes to enact the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, where a significant emphasis is given to ensuring safety at the workplace and promoting well-being. However, this Code still needs to cover the aspect of mental health at the workplace, guaranteeing a holistic well-being of a worker.

Reference can be taken from the US and the UK model to create a model that can cover mental and health issues. Compensation for mental health injuries should be included just like compensation awarded in case of a physical ailment. A concise and efficient set of guidelines needs to be formulated to objectively assess workplace conditions to help resolve the mental health crisis.

Importantly, it is complicated to prove adverse mental health condition was caused due to work done by the employee. Any employer can state that the mental breakdown of the worker was because of other reasons like family disturbance, childhood abuse, etc. can also lead to a situation of mental exhaustion.

Thus, keeping all these things in mind, the authors feel that it is an immediate requirement towards which legislature must act positively. Just providing mental health compensation would not solve the complete problem. We need an excellent medical infrastructure to tackle the situation of mental health in the best manner. One of the suggestions can be, that the employers can set up a counselling board to help employee overcome their psychological problems and achieve safe and healthy working conditions as part of the social security code. The idea of the Code on social security is based on protecting workers against harmful effects on their health, safety, and morality, and this also should be construed to include mental health.

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