Mental Health at Work

Mental health issues often tend to be the root cause of poor performance in the workplace. It is important for your employer to take these issues seriously and not just consider an employee to be slacking. Here is a quick guide on mental health in the workplace and what you can do if your employer is treating you less favourably.

Mental Health

What is Mental Health?

While the term mental health is not legally defined it is generally understood to be our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and how it affects our ability to cope with the pressures of our everyday life. Mental health is rarely static and factors inside and outside of work can affect it in either a positive or negative way as we move through different stages in our lives. Sometimes an individual may suffer from a mental illness or mental health condition which may make it difficult for them to cope with work

Examples of Mental Health Issues:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

How Do Mental Health Issues Arise in an Employment Law Context?

Mental health issues can arise in an employment law context where factors such as bullying, discrimination or prolonged stress have caused an employee to develop a mental health condition. All employers have a duty under common law to take reasonable care of the safety of their employees by providing them with a safe place of work, safe equipment and a safe system of working.

What Workplace Factors Can Contribute To Poor Mental Health?

As we spend a large portion of our lives working it is understandable that factors in our work would likely risk our mental health. Some of these risks may include:

  • Large workload or work pace
  • Long, unsociable hours
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Violence, bullying or harassment by your line manager or colleagues
  • Receiving performance allegations and/or a performance improvement plan
  • Facing disciplinary proceedings
  • Job insecurity or inadequate pay
  • Not receiving the appropriate support or training

This list is not exhaustive. There are countless factors which may negatively affect an employee’s mental health.

It is generally considered reasonable for an employer to assume that their employees can handle the normal stress of working life unless the existence of a specific condition or illness is communicated to them.

A mental health condition can be considered a disability if it meets the definition of disability laid out under Section 6(1)(a)(b) of the Equality Act 2010. This states that a person has a disability is they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out typical day-to-day activities. This impairment does not have to be clinically recognised or caused by a specific illness or condition.

Some conditions such as alcoholism or drug addiction are excluded from protection under the Equality Act 2010 unless they are connected to another condition which does meet the definition of disability. Additionally, a mental health condition that does not present any current symptoms, or the symptoms are better sometimes, can still be considered a disability.

Your employer is also legally obligated to provide reasonable adjustments to assist you in carrying out your role. Failure to do so can amount to disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The reasonableness of these adjustments will be for the Employment Tribunal to decide and will often depend on the size and resources available to your employer.

Please see the disability discrimination page for more information.

Examples of Reasonable Adjustments:

  • Making adjustments to the premises by providing a ramp or moving furniture around
  • Allowing a more flexible working pattern
  • Working from a different place of work or from home
  • Changes to your role such as giving some of your duties to another employee
  • Removing you from working closely with any colleagues who are causing you further stress
  • Providing extra training or mentoring
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment
  • Allowing you to take disability leave

Can Stress Resulting From Difficulties at Work Amount to a Disability?

Generally, if your stress is only a result of difficulties at work it is unlikely to amount to a disability. This is because problems with your employer do not automatically meet the definition of disability found in the Equality Act 2010 in that they affect your day-to-day activities. However, if you suffer from other conditions such as anxiety or clinical depression which are exasperated by your difficulties at work, these are more likely to amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

The final decision on whether a disability exists will be for the Employment Tribunal to determine. Case law highlights that mere labels such as stress and anxiety are not enough to satisfy the definition of disability, usually, appropriate medical evidence will also need to be presented as evidence. To find out more information on stress at work please click here.

What Claims Can I Make?

The main claims available are:

  1. Disability discrimination
  2. Constructive dismissal
  3. Personal injury

Personal injury claims are generally the type of claim brought in situations of stress at work. A claim for personal injury might be available to you for losses flowing from your employers’ lack of duty of care towards you if it was reasonably foreseeable that such losses would occur.

How Long Do I Have to Make a Claim?

This will depend on the type of claim you are bringing. In a discrimination claim, there is a strict time limit of 3 months minus one day from when the last act of discrimination occurred. There can also be situations of continuing adverse treatment against you by your employer. For more details please follow this link.

The time limit for constructive dismissal cases is 3 months minus one day from the date that your paid employment ended. When this date is will depend on whether you resign with immediate effect or work your notice period. Follow this link for more information on constructive dismissal claims.

In a claim for personal injury, the time limit is 3 years from the date you became aware of the personal injury, however, the court has the discretion to extend that period.

What Can My Employer Do To Support Employees With Mental Health Issues?

Employers should strive to create a healthy environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health. The Thriving at Work Review by Stevenson and Farmer sought to discover how employers can better support their employees, including those with poor mental health. The review sets out several “mental health core standards” which employers can quickly implement to improve the workplace environment. These mental health core standards consist of:

  • Producing, implementing and communicating a ‘mental health at work’ plan
  • Increasing mental health awareness among employees
  • Encourage open discussion about mental health and make employees aware of the support available to them should they be struggling
  • Ensure employees have good working conditions, a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development
  • Deliver mental health training for all line managers and supervisors in order to ensure effective people management
  • Actively monitor employee mental health and well-being