The content of the bill
The bill contains three specific initiatives to improve the psychological working environment.
Targeted supervision in relation to the psychological working environment:
The Minister suggests to set aside an additional DKK 15 million for targeted supervision in the period 2013-2015. The supervision is to be targeted at the following industries and jobs:
- Home care
- 24-hour care centres
- Social workers
- Prison service
The object is that the supervision focusing on the psychological working environment and guidance within these industries and jobs may contribute to reducing the number of persons being subject to mental wearing-down.
Equal status of physical and psychological working environment in relation to the decision method:
The Minister also suggests to give equal status to the physical and psychological working environment as to the decision method In the future, notices will be issued when the Working Environment Service finds that a company has violated the psychological working environment, as it is also the case when it comes to the physical working environment.
Today, when a company is having problems with the psychological working environment, the Working Environment Service intervenes with a "decision on the psychological working environment". If the company is not able to solve the problems after the making of the decision, the Working Environment Service will issue an order. Today, such an order will automatically result in a requirement to seek the advice of a health and safety consultant.
If the bill is adopted, the automatic requirement concerning the advice of a consultant will be abolished, and it will be determined when an order concerning the psychological working environment will set off the duty to seek advice.
Specification of the psychological working environment under the Working Environment Act
The Minister further suggests that it should clearly appear from the Working Environment Act that the psychological working environment has equal status as the physical working environment. It is suggested that this equal status is clarified by inserting a specification directly in section 1 of the Act that the Act applies to both the physical and psychological working environment.
At the moment, it does not appear from the Act that the two working environments have equal status. It does, however, appear from the comments to section 1 that the Act applies to both the physical and the psychological working environment, and that these have equal status.
Reason for the bill
According to the Minister, the reason for the bill is, inter alia, that a statement from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment shows that the number of employees stating that they have been subject to threats of violence at the workplace has almost doubled from 6 % to 11 % from 2005-2010. At the same time, the number of employees stating that they have been subject to actual violence at the workplace has more than doubled from 3 % to 8 % from 2005-2010.
Financing of the bill
In connection with the negotiations concerning the budget agreement for 2012, the Danish Government and the Red-Green Alliance agreed to spend DKK 1 billion on prevention and retention at the labour market.
In a press release of 26 August 2012, the Ministry published five initiatives at DKK 531 million for the purpose of prevention of physical and psychological wearing-down, including specific supervision in relation to the psychological working environment.
The Ministry's proposal to focus on the psychological working environment comes after a period with general great attention on the psychological working environment - also from a legal perspective, inter alia, by the Supreme Court ruling of U2012.524H, where the Supreme Court found that psychological damage arising in connection with a very infringing staff arrangement was (of course) covered by the Liability in Damages Act.
The bill is characterised by being a statement of objectives as the bill amending the Working Environment Act is without actual legal importance. As stated above, it already appears from the comments to section 1 that the act covers and provides equal status to the physical and the psychological working environment. Nor does it appear directly from the wording of section 1 that the Act covers the physical working environment. It is thus surprising that the Minister now sees a need to mention the psychological working environment directly in the section.
The other measures described above involve a change of the administrative procedure and focus in selected industries and jobs.
In general, these initiatives have been met by a lot of criticism as focus is not directed at all industries and jobs. Further, the bill has been criticised for aiming at an area on which it has already been decided to aim great focus, inter alia, in connection with the present 2020 strategy.
The initiative to change the administrative practice of the Working Environment Service has also been criticised for being contrary to a 17-year old agreement jointly entered into by the labour market parties.
There is no doubt that the psychological working environment has been and will presumably be of even greater importance to the individual employee. Concurrently with the individual identifying himself to an increasing extent by his work and being assessed based on his working life and social life, inter alia, in social media as well as the new generation's increased focus on own needs and interests, the individual's psychological working environment will be of greater importance to the individual. This development will, of course, result in a need for additional measures. The unions will probably also focus on this area by commencing proceedings for damages, and the most important changes in terms of attitude will probably take place if proceedings for damages concerning a bad psychological working environment result in judgments against employers who have not paid sufficient attention this side of the working environment.
The bill is expected to be presented during the autumn.