17 May 2016
Mental Health and the Workplace - Mental Health Awareness Week 2016
The Mental Health Foundation states that 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK. Yet mental health problems still remain one of the least discussed topics in the workplace.
Last year the focus for Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place on 16 - 22 May, was ‘relationships’.
A key relationship in a person’s life is the one they share with their employer. Most people will have found that work has affected their mental health at some point in their lives.
An overwhelming workload or being bullied by a boss can cause symptoms of stress or depression for a period of time. Similarly, bereavement, divorce or other issues in one’s personal life can have an impact on mental health which may temporarily affect a person’s performance at work.
If you are living with a mental health condition then it is possible that you qualify as a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010. The definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act is wider than the meaning generally given to the term disabled.
The Equality Act
The Equality Act defines a person to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
If you meet this legal definition of being disabled then your employer may have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments and a failure to do so is unlawful disability discrimination.
In order for your employer to make the adjustments that you require they have to know about your condition. So the first step is considering whether you want to tell them about it. This is an individual decision for each person but if your employer is not aware of your condition then they cannot be expected to make adjustments.
You could speak to your line manager or alternatively someone in HR. There is often a fear that notifying your employer that you have a mental health condition will result in them thinking that you aren’t capable of doing your job. However, employers are becoming more aware of the importance of addressing mental health issues properly. It’s also worth noting that there is legal protection against being treated less favourably because you notify your employer of a disability.
Adjustments could include different working patterns such as an adjustment to the hours you work, start time, or the way in which you carry out your work. For example, if your condition means that you are unable to cope with commuting in rush hour then you may be able to arrange different start and finish times.
You could also seek to work at home one or two days a week. Whatever the adjustment is, you should feel comfortable in raising suggestions about what would help as you will know your condition and its impact better than your employer.
You can also discuss this with your GP or specialist and your employer may ask you to go and see occupational health to see if they can provide recommendations. Ultimately, what is reasonable will depend on a number of factors including the work you do, the impact of the adjustment and the size and resources of your employer.
To learn more read our blog: What are Reasonable Adjustments in the Workplace?
Not all mental health conditions will amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 but employers have a duty of care to all their employees. It is in an employer’s best interests to ensure the well-being of their staff.
Wellbeing and mindfulness are equally hot topics in the workplace at the moment and many employers are looking at ways of improving the mental health of the entire workforce by offering employees advice on how to handle stress and practical tools such as yoga and mindfulness classes.
If you would like advice on any of the issues raised in this blog then please feel free to contact the workplace discrimination solicitors at Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9060 or alternatively you can contact us online.
Brogan Solomon is an employment solicitor at Slater and Gordon in London.