Working, whether paid or unpaid, is good for our health and well-being. It enables us to socialise, build contacts and find support. It also keeps us busy, challenges us and rewards us financially. However, there may be times at work when people will feel under pressure and this can lead to stress. A short period of stress by itself is unlikely to be considered a disability under the law, however prolonged stress can become more serious and potentially make existing mental health conditions worse. While today’s society has made positive steps to raise awareness of mental health issues, many sufferers still choose to hide their mental health condition from their employers. Sufferers worry about the stigma that may be attached and the impact it may have on their career prospects and job security. It is important that workers do not suffer in silence if they have a mental health condition. Poor mental health in the workplace is damaging to people as well as businesses. The total economic and social cost of mental health is over £105 billion a year, yet only 1 in 4 of those with mental health conditions are receiving treatment. The purpose of this article is to help identify the rights workers have under the law and what they can do to protect themselves.
The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination. It consolidates law found in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Section 4 of the Equality Act protects people from being discriminated against because of a particular characteristic, such as gender, age, disability, marriage, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. It is important to note that if the mental health condition has a detrimental impact on the person’s day-to-day living over a long period of time, then it could be considered a disability under section 4 of the Act. The Equality Act also applies to all employers in the UK. This also covers contract workers, office holders and business partners. There are key points to note about the Act when linking mental health with disability:
- An employer must not treat a disabled person less favourably than another employee because of their disability.
- An employer must not treat you badly because of your disability.
- Employers are under a positive duty to consider reasonable adjustments to work practices, and provide aids and adaptations for disabled employees.
- Employers are not allowed to use ‘pre-employment questionnaires’ to ask about your health before you are offered a job.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Here are numerous ways for workers to protect themselves if they are suffering from a mental health condition.
- See your GP
It is important that an employee is aware of their medical condition and what they are able or unable to do. Therefore, is it best to see a medical expert to get to the cause of the problem and identify what options are available to you.
- What is the work policy?
Businesses should have written policies on worker well-being and should also outline what support may be available to the worker. This may include access to a free confidential support helpline.
- Raise your mental health condition as soon as possible
The sooner an employer is made aware of your medical condition; the sooner they may be able to help. It is important that workers with mental health conditions never suffer alone as it can do more harm than good. An employer that is not aware of your condition may end up making decisions about your employment without being aware of the full facts.
- Identify what changes can be made
An employee should not be afraid to ask their employer about changes to working practices. For example, does the employee need a change to their working hours or does the employee need more support from management?
- Make a formal request or formal complaint
If your employer is unwilling or refuses to help, the worker can make a formal request for changes to working practices. However, if all else fails the worker may wish to raise a formal complaint under the internal grievance procedure to seek a resolution to the issue.
There is still a way to go on raising awareness on mental health not just in the workplace but in general too. It is welcome news that the Government is now pushing this very important issue forward when it announced in February 2016 that tens of thousands of people with mental health conditions will be supported to find work or return to work. Also, an extra £1 billion will be invested in mental health care by 2021. This is a step in the right direction for those suffering with mental health conditions in the UK.
19 March 2016