Mental Health and Your Rights at Work

Mental health issues at work and in our wider society have become more of an issue in recent years. The Mental Health Foundation’s statistics suggest that 1 in 6 people suffer from mental health issues and the Centre for Mental Health’s research says that mental health issues cost UK businesses £34.9 billion a year due to reduced productivity at work, sickness absence and turnover of staff.

With all the additional challenges because of the Coronavirus pandemic, many employers are encouraging their staff to talk about any mental health issues. If you are looking for help from your employer, it’s important to understand your rights at work on mental health issues.

Do I Have Legal Protection?

In my experience as an Employment Law Solicitor, employees often report that their mental health issues have been brought on or made worse by the workplace environment.  This could include having problems with a particular boss or the working environment or culture they are in.

Whether you’re legally protected does depend on your condition.

A disability is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the employee’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. Therefore, anyone with serious mental health issues could fall into this definition.

If, for example, you’ve been diagnosed with depression and you’re on medication you could be having issues with sleeping, doing housework or going out. This could mean that you get the legal protection the Equality Act offers.

Discrimination and Mental Health at Work

Discrimination at work can take a number of different forms when it comes to mental health issues.

You could suffer from direct discrimination. This could be your employer making upsetting comments about your mental health or treating you less favourably because of your condition.

But, you could suffer from indirect discrimination as a result of your mental health issues. One of the most common issues I hear about from my clients is where their employer is using the absence management process, but isn’t taking into account any absences due to mental health. The same applies if your employer has put in place a performance management plan, which doesn’t factor in any mental health issues that you may have.   

Talking to My Employer about My Mental Health

There’s no doubt that this can be really difficult and will depend on your employer’s approach. Some employers will be better at dealing with these types of issues than others. Although you may be tempted to not talk to your employer about your mental health issues, it’s difficult to expect your employer to offer an understanding and supportive approach. 

Many employers are understanding about mental health issues, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll deal with the situation as they should. General awareness of mental health issues has improved recently and I would expect many employers to have a policy in place to deal with these types of issues.

If you’re struggling with your mental health at work, hopefully you can resolve any issues you have with your employer informally and at an early stage. But there could be times where you want to take things forward formally because your employer’s response has not been helpful.

As a result, it’s important to know what you should expect from your employer.

What Can I Expect from My Employer?

At the very least, it would be reasonable to expect your employer to talk about any issues that you have. This should include a discussion about whether they can do anything to help and it’s sensible for your employer to regularly check in with you about how you are.

If your condition is serious, your employer should be taking practical steps to help you. This could involve offering a support counselling service, making amendments to your job role or changing their absence management policy so they don’t count any mental health related absences.

What If My Employer isn’t Helping Me?

If you’ve tried to speak to your employer and they’re not helping you or taking your mental health issues seriously, you may feel that you’ve run out of options and have no choice but to raise the issue formally with your employer.

Get a copy of your employer’s grievance policy. This will set out the process of dealing with a formal grievance and will tell you what you need to do next.

If you don’t get anywhere after raising a grievance, contact our Employment Solicitors for an initial consultation to discuss your options. This could include making a Discrimination Claim or exploring a Settlement Agreement with your employer.

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