What is an employer’s responsibility if an employee has mental health problems?

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Karen Holden from A City Law Firm outlines the law as regards employees with mental health problems and what employers can do to boost mental well being.

Mental Health


Mental health is defined as a state of well-being and includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. Employers should be fully aware and up to date in respect of their responsibilities relating to the mental health of their employees. This is particularly prevalent as one of the biggest issues a business may face is a claim for discrimination.

The laws on mental health discrimination are set out in the Equality Act 2010 which stipulates that employees are protected from being treated unfairly or discriminated against based on a physical or mental impairment that has a “substantial” and “long-term” negative effect on their ability to carry our normal daily activities.

An employee’s mental and physical well-being should be treated in the same way when it comes to days off; in the UK there is no legal difference between taking a day off, whether it is to look after your mental or physical health. Whilst it seems encouraging that mental and physical health are treated in the same way and are expected to be as vital as the other, employees are still wary of taking mental health days due to fear of judgement or assumptions.

However, more and more companies, especially large companies such as Tesco and Marks and Spencer, are pledging to commit to tackling the stigma around mental health, known as “Time to Change”.

There are various ways in which employers are tackling the stigma and the following steps can be taken to prevent or reduce mental health discrimination in the workplace:

    • Provide training – Ensure that employees are educated about mental health generally and are trained in spotting mental ill health and being able to manage or approach situations tactfully and sensitively. It is vital that employees know who to go to for advice or support, not just internally but externally too and a list of relevant numbers and/or websites should be displayed or circulated
    • Create an open culture – Employers should create an open environment where employees feel able to and comfortable with seeking support and disclosing their concerns without fear of judgment or shame. It is the employer’s responsibility to seek to remove the stigma attached to mental health through active discussions, presentations or posters
    • Be aware of stressors – Stress is a large creator of mental ill health so employers should be aware of these, as well as how to reduce, manage and monitor stressors in order to prevent or cure any problems. Employers should actively encourage employees to have time away from their desks or work areas and, if an employee has returned from sick leave, employers should ensure that they are fit to return to work by carrying out interviews or assessments
    • Make reasonable adjustments – Employers should make changes to employees’ roles to make things easier for them, such as allowing flexible working, amendments to workload or changing a work environment; failure to make reasonable adjustments would count as discrimination
    •  Establish a mental health policy – Ensure that a policy which sets out your company’s values and processes are readily available, followed and are periodically reviewed and updated.

This equality should be demonstrated to all staff, regardless of race, religion, sexuality, gender
identity or perceived sexual orientation. Everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect.

*Karen Holden is the Founder of A City Law Firm.

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