Fri 19 May 2023

Mental health issues at work - what you need to know

According to the Health and Safety Executive, one in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point.  While most of these are mild, tend to be short-term and are usually successfully treated, for some their mental health may impact on their ability to carry out their jobs.  In some cases work can cause poor mental health or aggravate a pre-existing condition.  Irrespective of the cause, employers have legal responsibilities to employees with mental health issues. 

What responsibilities does my employer have?

Employers have a duty of care to look after an employee's health and safety in the workplace, and that includes mental health.  Work related mental health issues must be assessed to measure the level of risk to workers.  Where a risk is identified, the employer should take steps to remove or reduce the risk as far as is reasonably practicable.  An employers' obligation to ensure a safe working environment will include employees working from home.

Some mental health conditions can be defined as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010.  Disabled employees are protected from discrimination and harassment at work, and employers have a legal obligation to make "reasonable adjustments" to the workplace and/or the role being undertaken if the mental health condition places the employee at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to non-disabled colleagues. 

When might a mental health condition amount to a disability?

In order for a mental health condition to amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, it must have a substantial adverse effect on an individual's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.  It must also have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months.  Normal day-to-day activities might include things like getting washed and dressed, holding a conversation or being able to remember things or concentrate effectively.

For more information on when depression may amount to a disability read Depression and employment rights.

What are reasonable adjustments?

What adjustments are reasonable will depend on the particular circumstances of each case including the size and resources of the employer and the cost of the adjustment.  However, reasonable adjustments might include making changes to working hours or job duties (including adjusting targets where appropriate), amending workplace policies, the provision of specialised equipment or allowing a phased return to the workplace following ill health absence.

Do I have responsibility for my own health and safety?

While the primary responsibility for health and safety under health and safety law lies with the employer, you have a responsibility to look after your own health and safety (and the health and safety of others who may be affected by your actions at work).   This might include taking appropriate breaks or complying with any health and safety requirements laid down by your employer.  One thing you can do is speak to your line manager/employer and make them aware of how you are feeling and it is important to do this. If you hide your mental health issues from your employer, they may not owe the same duties to assist you as they would if they were aware of it.

What can I do if I think I have been discriminated against?

If you think you have been discriminated against then you should raise this with your employer.  You can do this informally or by raising a grievance.  If you still feel you have been discriminated against you may want to consider making a claim to an employment tribunal.  You can make a discrimination claim while still in employment with your employer.

Health and Safety Executive advice for employees with mental health conditions is available here.

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