Mental Health And The Equality Act 2010


The Law Of…Considering The Equality Act And Mental Health Issues

Following a recent report that insurance companies have been treating people with mental health issues unfavourably, David Hession, Employment Law Associate, assesses where people with mental health issues stand under current equality legislation.

Allegations Of Discrimination Against Insurance Companies

A recent report in the Guardian newspaper alleged that a number of insurers had either charged its customers increased premiums or refused to offer cover where individuals have a history of mental illness.

This approach has attracted a high level of criticism, specifically from Mind, a leading mental health charity. Mind voiced their concerns over the fact that individuals with mental health issues may not be covered under equality legislation.

Michael Henson-Webb, head of legal at Mind, said: “The current definition of disability under that Act doesn’t cover everyone with a mental health problem and makes it difficult for individuals with mental health problems and their legal advisers to clearly determine their rights.”

Insurance organisations often justify their approach of treating individuals with a condition differently by pointing to the exemption contained within the Equality Act 2010. This allows insurance companies to take factors impacting on an individual’s health into account when offering insurance cover or quoting premiums.

Disability Under The Equality Act 2010

Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 applies to individuals with a disability. More specifically, the legislation refers to a disabled person as having a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term adverse effect on day-to-day activities.

In cases of a physical impairment, it may be easier to deduce whether an individual has a disability. A very basic example may involve a wheelchair user who requires access to a building.

Is Mental Illness Covered As A Disability?

In cases of mental illness, it can be harder to determine whether an individual is covered under the Equality Act. This will often become more of a subjective exercise. As such, the courts will determine the impact an individual’s condition has on their day-to-day activities. This may include an assessment on how a condition impacts on daily activities such as eating, sleeping or how an individual interacts socially.

The courts will look at any available medical evidence. This could include contemporary medical reports or an expert report which has been compiled specifically for a court hearing.

Many employers may find that there has been an increase in the level of stress-related absences within their organisation. Under current legislation, stress in itself is generally not seen as amounting to a disability.

However, it is quite common for employees to experience symptoms which go further than stress. This could result in an employee developing a serious form of depression which could require heavy medication.

How Much Protection Does The Equality Act Offer?

Most people associate equality legislation with the protection it affords employees within a workplace environment. However, the report serves as a useful reminder that equality legislation extends further than the workplace. This includes schools and educational establishments, private members clubs and customers when dealing with commercial organisations.

David Comments:

"The issues of mental health and general wellbeing in the workplace have begun to attract greater media attention in recent years. Employers should be generally encouraged to engage with their employees in a regular basis. There are a number of steps that employers can take to encourage employees to speak out about any mental health issues they may have. Conducting regular back to work meetings (after a period of absence) and regular appraisals can afford employees the opportunity to speak out about any issues they have. Employers may wish to exercise some discretion in this area. Other positive ways of promoting wellbeing in the workplace could include promoting a sensible work-life balance as well putting health benefits in place, such as free gym membership of a cycle to work scheme. If an issue is found to exist then employers should deal with this pro-actively by putting appropriate adjustments in place, subject to the needs of the business."

Queries About Mental Health?

If you are either an employee or employer and have any queries about mental health or wellbeing in the workplace, then contact one of our Employment Law Solicitors today. We can inform you what your options are and offer guidance on the best course of action.

Get in touch today using our freephone number, or by using our online enquiry form.

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