In the UK, 15 per cent of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.
Meanwhile a staggering total of 300,000 workers with a long-term problem lose their job each year.
How is mental health defined?
Despite an independent review commissioned by then Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017 revealing that poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99bn a year, there is no legal definition of ‘mental health’.
More broadly, it is described as a person’s psychological and emotional well-being in their everyday life.
That can include both their mental health and mental illness.
It can fluctuate at any time for a number of reasons, including work-related issues that can contribute to severe stress, anxiety, depression and PTSD.
Mental health and employment law
There are two key areas in which mental health is addressed in the context of employment law:
Where work itself is the cause of an employee developing a mental health problem. This could be as a result of bullying, a prolonged period of stress in the workplace or being discriminated against. If bullying is involved, employees may also have a claim for personal injury as well as employment law.
Where an individual has a pre-existing mental health condition that has been aggravated by or brought on by work
How can work cause poor mental health?
Some of the most common mental health issues and illnesses at work can be a result of the following:
Being bullied or harassed in the workplace
Not being able to cope with intense workloads or demands
Facing disciplinary proceedings for misconduct
Failing to receive appropriate support or training at work
Legal obligations for employers
Unless an employer has a record of an employee’s vulnerability, including a history of mental illness, they can assume employees are able to cope with normal work demands.
However, an employer does have a legal obligation in those instances where a mental health condition is considered to be a ‘disability’ by the Equality Act 2010.
According to this legislation, that would be the case if an employee has a ‘physical or mental impairment’ which would have a ‘substantial and long-term adverse effect’ on their ability to carry out daily activities.
If your mental illness is classified as a disability using these guidelines, it would be categorised as unlawful discrimination if an employer were to treat you differently because of it.
Can mental health issues resulting from work amount to a disability?
There can be numerous grey areas when it comes to defining mental health issues in the workplace.
For example, stress is unlikely to be classified as a disability.
However, if you are suffering from conditions such as anxiety, clinical depression, PTSD and low mood, it is more likely to meet the criteria.
It will be at the discretion of an employment tribunal to make a final decision with regards to whether an employee has a mental impairment.
These cases often require medical evidence to substantiate the claims, and every case will be different.
What should your employer do?
According to the Equality Act, if an employer fails to provide reasonable changes and adjustments to help you continue to work, it can be defined as disability discrimination.
The adjustments made will heavily depend on the resources an employer has and the size of a company, but they might consist of the following:
Time off from work
Allow working from home
Create a more flexible work schedule
Pay for assessments
Increase the support available
Increase training where necessary
Temporarily or permanently change the role of the employee
Remove the employee from working with a fellow employee that is harassing or bullying them
Ensure there is a structure in place to facilitate an employee’s return to work
These reasonable adjustments should be reviewed at regular intervals to confirm an employee is receiving adequate support to continue in their role and that an employer is logistically able to accommodate the changes required.
Making a claim
There are three main claims that can be made in regard to mental illness at work:
To find out more about each of these claims, please speak to a member of the legal team at Wafer Phillips and they will be happy to assist.
Is there a deadline for making a claim?
For disability discrimination, there is a three-month limit in which you can make a claim and commence a tribunal process.
The three-month period begins from the date of the last act of discrimination by your employer.
For personal injury, there is a three-year limit from the date on which you first became aware of the personal injury that had occurred at work.
For constructive dismissal, depending on whether you resigned immediately or worked a notice period, there will be a three-month limit from the date your paid employment ended.
Wafer Phillips has been committed to assisting clients with work-related mental health issues for more than a quarter of a century.