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Employers Guide To Supporting Employees With A Mental Health Disability

Martin Searle Solicitors Employment Law And Community Care Law Solicitors

Earlier this week we saw the 25th World Mental Health Day. This is an important issue for the workplace as each year millions of working days are lost due to mental ill health. And the situation is not improving.

On 1 October 2016 we launched our campaign to stamp out disability discrimination in the workplace. Sadly, discrimination in the workplace related to mental health issues is particularly rife.

Mental ill-health often goes unspoken and unacknowledged with work colleagues and HR departments likely to be more open about physical ailments than they are about discussing mental health issues. Referring to someone’s mental health can be seen as a criticism or inference that someone is weak or unstable. Depression and conditions such as bi-polar disorder are ‘hidden’ because to admit to suffering from these conditions may mean facing social stigma and even workplace discrimination. How often is a colleague sent a bunch of flowers from the team when off with long term depression?

It may be that managers are concerned that by addressing mental health issues they will get drawn into areas they are unqualified or unable to deal with. Whatever the reason for the silence, it is a vicious circle: we don’t know much about mental ill health – so we don’t talk about it – so we are scared of it –so we don’t talk about it and so on.

While many mental health conditions are invisible, they do meet the disability criteria under the Equality Act 2010. A mental ill-health should be considered a disability if it has a long term, substantial effect on the employee’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Proper assessment of such illnesses not only provides employees with protection from discrimination, it also informs employers about Reasonable Adjustments they should make to overcome the disadvantages disabled workers experience at work.

Employers can take proactive steps to help maintain the mental health of employees and assist those with mental health problems to remain in work and be productive members of the team.

Spot the signs

Back to work interviews after a period of sickness leave should be used to discuss the employees’ current physical and mental health. Early support and intervention can make all the difference. Issues that appear at first to require disciplinary action could be signs of extreme stress and anxiety and would be better treated as an ill-health capability issue. Thorough and sensitive investigation is key.

Engage with the problem

A meeting with the employee to identify the issue is just the start of the process; Reasonable Adjustments to the employee’s working environment should be considered even though they might not yet appear to meet the disability definition. For example, the mental ill-health has not yet lasted a year. This is because ‘long term’ means likely to last more than one year.

Stay aware

Mental illness takes many forms and a range of actions from proactive intervention to passively observance may be appropriate to monitor the situation.

Good communication

Asking the right questions and enabling employees to confide in their managers will encourage a trusting working relationship, which has a positive effect on employees’ well-being.

If employers promote awareness of mental health issues, create a culture in which employees feel they can talk about their concerns, and take steps to deal with issues when they arise, then the effects of mental ill health in the workplace will be greatly reduced.

Many of us will suffer from some type of mental health illness in our working life; positive action and support in the workplace can make all the difference.

Martin Searle Solicitors, 9 Marlborough Place, Brighton, BN1 1UB
T: 01273 609 991

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