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What do you know about employee mental health rights in the UK?

Did you know that the Equality Act 2010 protects the rights of employees who have a disability? Of course, you did! 

But did you also know that this law relates to employees who have a mental health disability? Or that a mental health problem could even be regarded as a disability – just like a physical disability? Maybe not. 

So, if any of this has come as a bit of a surprise to you, read on because if you have a mental health disability, you should know your rights.

What does the law say?

In simple terms, the law states that all employees are equal. They must not be treated differently because of a ‘protected characteristic’ such as sex, age, race or disability. And a mental health problem can be regarded as a disability if all these criteria apply:

  • It has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on an employee, such as having difficulty focusing on a task or needing more time to complete it.
  • The period of mental ill-health is at least 12 months. 
  • The employee can’t do their normal daily activities such as following instructions or keeping to company working hours. 

By the way, a mental health problem is still viewed as a disability even if the symptoms aren’t always present because they come and go over time.

And apart from not discriminating against anyone in the workforce, ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) points out that employers have a general duty of care towards their employees.

What’s a duty of care?

A duty of care means that an employer must ensure that their employees have a safe workplace that supports their health and wellbeing. Most importantly, an employer must protect their employees from all types of discrimination, but especially from disability discrimination. 

And if an employee has a mental health disability, they have the right to expect that their employer will make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the way things are done in the workplace. 

What are reasonable adjustments?

Making reasonable adjustments simply means changing some of the ways things are done at work so that it’s as easy as possible for an employee with a mental health disability to do their job. The idea is to reduce or remove the effects of their disability as much as possible.

This could be done by:

  • allowing an employee more rest breaks;
  • working with them each day to help prioritise their workload;
  • allowing more flexible start and finish times and shift patterns;
  • giving more one-to-one support; or
  • enabling a phased return to work for an employee who’s been on long term sick leave.

And when does an employer have to make reasonable adjustments?

According to ACAS,  the law requires an employer to start work on this in the following situations: 

  • they know an employee has a disability;
  • an employee with a disability asks for adjustments;
  • an employee with a disability is having difficulty with any part of their job; or 
  • an employee’s absence record, sickness record, or delay in returning to work is because of or linked to their disability.

So, an employee with a mental health disability has to make this known to their employer. And that can be tricky.

How do you ask your employer to make reasonable adjustments?

Of course, it’s never easy to talk about your health to your employer. But talking about mental health, with all the stigma that is often still associated with it, can be even more difficult. If you’re already suffering from anxiety, this will be a real challenge. 

But this is about your rights as an employee. And if you’re at a disadvantage at work because of your disability, you should talk to your employer as soon as possible. 

Just remember, though, you don’t have to tell your employer about your mental health disability – you have a right to privacy and confidentiality. However, in that case, your employer can’t be expected to know the best way to help you and to make those reasonable adjustments. It’s far better for you to be at the centre of those changes. 

If you can, the best way to do this is to meet face to face and explain your disability and how it affects you at work. Then you can both discuss the best way forward and make a written record of what you have agreed.

And what can you do if you feel that you’ve been discriminated against at work?

If you believe that your employer is failing in their duty of care towards you by not protecting you from being discriminated against, you can take legal action. The Equality and Human Rights Commission explains the different types of disability discrimination like this: 

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • failure to make reasonable adjustments
  • discrimination arising from disability
  • harassment
  • victimisation

But let’s not assume the worst. You are unlikely to find yourself having to take legal action.

In our experience, employers are keen to support employees who are having mental health problems. They understand that with the right support and therapy, their employees can recover their mental health and continue to be a valuable and productive member of the company. 

And that’s where we can help.

How can SupportRoom help my company?

Here, at SupportRoom, we offer employee therapy for small to medium businesses. Our platform allows employees to receive therapy on-demand from a  dedicated, qualified therapist.

Our SME Employee Support platform is designed to give insightful data that allows your employees to track their progress and monitor their own mental and physical health.

Book a free demo here.


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