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Mental health in the workplace: Legal requirements and creating a supportive environment

With mental health issues being talked about now more than ever, it is important for employers to understand their duties and how they can help employees who struggle with mental health problems.

Whilst some aspects are covered under law, there are many other things that you could implement in your workplace to support an employee with poor mental health.

What is classed as a mental health problem?

Some of the more common mental health problems include anxiety and depression, although others include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to name a few.

A common misconception is that stress is also a mental health problem, something which it is not. However, stress can contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety, so can still be a serious issue.

Spotting a mental health problem

Many people diagnosed with mental health problems feel ashamed or embarrassed about them, and so do not tell their employers about it.

Therefore, being aware of how people may be acting differently or feeling can help you as the employer understand what somebody may be dealing with.

Whilst the following list should not be used to make assumptions about people, some possible signs you might notice could include:

  • Appearing withdrawn or anxious
  • Changes in the standard of their work
  • Lack of interest in tasks they used to enjoy
  • An increase in absences or being late to work
  • Mood or behaviour changes

Mental health and the law

The Equality Act 2010 is an act where certain protected characteristics – such as age, race, sexual orientation, and disability – must not be discriminated against.

Somebody whose mental health is classed as a disability is protected under the Disability Act 2010.

To be protected under this act, the employee’s mental health condition must:

  • Have a ‘substantial effect on their life’ (if they have treatment for it such as counselling or medication, then this must be considered as how they would function without the treatment)
  • Have lasted, or be expected to last, over 12 months
  • And affects their day-to-day abilities in life (such as interacting with people or following instructions)

If the employee’s mental health is classed as a disability, then you as the employee must not discriminate against them because of this, and you must make reasonable adjustments, as stated by law.

How you can help

One of the best ways you can help an employee struggling with a mental health condition is to have open communication with them.

Asking if there is anything you can do to help them or see if there are any responsibilities or working arrangements you could help with, such as working with them to prioritise workload or allowing them more breaks.

Something that is a newer addition to some workplaces is employing a mental health first-aider to help employees who are struggling. Whilst there is a proposal to make this law, this bill has not yet been passed. However, it may be something you want to consider if you feel it may help your workplace.

To find out more information about disability discrimination in the workplace and how you can prevent it, contact us today.

Amanda Hyam

Senior Associate – Dispute Resolution / Employment

I have specialised in Dispute Resolution, Civil Litigation and Employment law for more than 15 years.  I understand how daunting the prospect of litigation can be and because of this I am always available to discuss concerns.