In recent years it could be argued mental health has become slightly less of a taboo topic. Perhaps in part this has been down to many celebrity endorsements showing mental ill health doesn’t discriminate. Additionally, initiatives such as Time to Change, Mental Health First Aid, Every Mind Matters and Mates in Mind have all contributed to breaking the stigma of silence, but more work needs to be done.
In this fast paced constantly switched on world we are forever being challenged and bombarded with requests and responsibilities. Are we asking too much of people? Nobody is superhuman. Whilst we may want all our people to do more with less, put in the extra hours, day after day for the good of the company, many run the risk of developing mental health issues if not supported.
Individuals not seen to be ‘pulling their weight’ can all too often be masking an underlying mental health issue and risk facing discrimination at work.
Understanding employee rights
Everyone is protected under the Equality Act (2010). The Act prevents discrimination and removes barriers averting equal access to work and opportunities. Several mental health conditions are classified as a disability under 1 of the 9 protected characteristics in this Act. Employers need to be mindful if employees are treated less favourable because of their mental health condition they could be prosecuted.
Employers must also consider all reasonable adjustment requests to meet the needs of an employee’s disability. It is an employee’s right to ask for these changes and if they’re reasonable, employers must take steps to have them implemented. Reasonable adjustments may need to be made for many mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety.
Examples of mental health related reasonable adjustments might include:
- Phased return to work following a period of absence
- Flexible working arrangements where possible, such as truncated hours or the ability to work from home
- Positioning someone in a quieter area of an office building
- Supporting people during work time to access counselling, psychotherapy or other medical appointments that help them to manage their condition
- Allowing people ten-minute time-outs if something has acutely overwhelmed them at work
Whatever it is, an adjustment is deemed reasonable only if it:
- Removes the initial barrier that previously disadvantaged the employee.
- Is financially viable
- Is something the employee agrees with.
Employers need to be fully aware that discrimination can manifest itself in several ways in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 details many different types of discrimination covered under the Act.
Direct discrimination – Being overtly prejudice and/or seen to be denying somebody an opportunity whilst others are not because of a mental health condition.
Indirect discrimination – Occurs when a set of rules or circumstances change for everyone but indirectly effect a person with a mental health condition.
Harassment- Blatantly being mistreated because of their protected characteristic. Quite often manifests itself as bullying in the workplace.
Victimisation– Happens as a result of an employee making a complaint about discrimination in the workplace and then not receiving the same opportunities they would have if they hadn’t made the complaint.
Discrimination arising from disability – May occur through punitive measures taken due to an increased amount of absence because of a protected characteristic
Failure by employers to carry out their duty to support their employees with protected characteristics could result in grievance being raised and potentially an employment tribunal. It is therefore vitally important businesses protect themselves from these situations by creating workplaces cultures that openly support mental health at work. These might include:
- Include positive, supportive mental health statements in job advertisements that encourage the disclosure of mental health conditions.
- Create a mental health policy to detail how your organisation supports good mental health at work
- Build an internal mental health toolkit for all staff to access and communicate what’s included. This could range from EAP support lines, occupational health support, and counselling services.
- Train your line managers to have supportive mental health conversations in the workplace
- Get your senior leaders to endorse and visibly demonstrate they take mental health at work seriously
- Hold awareness days and allow all employees to attend workshops and seminars based around mental health to encourage discussion and education.
Whatever you decide to do, people do not deserve to be treated any differently because of their mental health. That is the underlying message you need to instil throughout your workplace.
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