Discussing mental health with your employer
Deciding to raise the issue of mental health with your employer can be stressful and frightening owing to the uncertainty of how they might react. You may be unsure about where you stand in terms of employment law, or worried that your employer may discriminate against you.
Thankfully, workplace culture has gone through immense changes in the past few years. This has resulted in more employers becoming conscious and mindful of the impact of mental health in the work place and their legal obligations under employment law to not discriminate against, harass or victimise people coming forward to seek support.
According to mental health charity, Mind, one in four people in the UK experience mental health problems each year. This means, in the context of the workplace, even small businesses are affected. Statistics imply most workplaces will have at least one employee who is affected by a mental health problem.
It is important to have a discussion with your employer, even if you don’t go into great detail.
Discussing mental health problems with your employer allows you to inform them of the influence your mental health is having on your ability to perform your role. A discussion will also help your employer understand they may need to consider what employment law calls “reasonable adjustments” to your work in order to support you.
But not all employers will react in the same way. Some will have processes in place to help you, some might not have access to mental health resources and others may have no knowledge of mental health problems at all.
It is important to state here that refusal to acknowledge and address an employee’s mental health problems can amount to unlawful disability discrimination.
Legal Spark believe in having open and honest conversations around mental health.
To help you plan a discussion about mental health with your employer, Legal Spark has created the following guidelines.
1. Remember you are not alone
Mental health problems are an invisible illness. It’s easy to forget that others may be able to empathise with or help your situation. Your colleagues or manager could be struggling with similar issues. Others may have a loved one who is suffering. Remembering you are not alone can bring comfort in knowing that there are others who understand your difficulties.
2. Write down how your mental health problems affect you
This could be information you’ve received from your GP, a mental health history or a list of triggers that might influence your ability to perform your role.
You may decide not to share all this information with your employer, but writing it down provides a foundation for future discussions on how mental health problems affect your life.
3. Request a meeting and plan the points you want to discuss
Taking the step to actually discuss mental health with your employer can be scary. If you need to cancel or delay the meeting, that’s ok. When you decide meet, it’s important you come prepared. Use what you wrote down earlier to highlight how your mental health problems are affecting your wellbeing and influencing your performance at work. Your employer will appreciate you bringing potential ideas and suggestions for reasonable adjustments that can be implemented to alleviate your immediate situation and to maintain your performance in the work place.
4. Maintain communication with your employer
Continue discussions to inform of any developments with your situation, both positive and negative. It’s important to establish a regular routine of informing your employer of your mental health status. Keep discussions open, respectful and focused on what changes might be necessary to boost your productivity. With time, you will become more confident in being open about your mental health, gain access to more support and feel more comfortable in your ability to manage your workload and exceed your own expectations.
5. Be conscious of your rights and responsibilities as an employee
If your mental health problems last more than 12 months (long term) and have a substantial effect on your ability to engage with daily life, then you may be considered “disabled” in terms of the Equality Act 2010.
This legislation specifies that disabled people are protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the work place.
Additionally, to avoid discrimination, your employer would have to consider reasonable adjustments in the work place, including adjustments to policies or procedures, to assist you.
These legal rights must be balanced against your responsibilities as an employee to work with your employer to ascertain what reasonable adjustments may be required and how best you can be supported to continue in work.
In some cases, you may not be able to work and will require time off. It is important that you maintain contact with your employer during this time and provide ‘fit notes’ or other evidence of your ongoing ill health in accordance with your employer’s sickness or absence policies.
ikewise, your employer must not hold your time off against you – if it is disability related – when considering any performance reviews, promotion opportunities or in potential redundancy situations. This is very important, because it could amount to unlawful discrimination if your employer were to penalise you for being off sick because of a disability.
6. Take advice in you are unsure
Legal Spark specialises in cases of discrimination and in disability discrimination in particular. If you have an employment law problem, or are worried about your situation in work, please feel free to get in touch with us.
A one-off employment law consultation with our qualified staff can cost as little as £75. Legal aid is also available for those you qualify for this service.
If you are experiencing problems with your mental health, please speak to someone. The first port of call may be your own G.P., call them and make an appointment as soon as possible. If you are unable to speak to your G.P., there are a number of free helplines you may wish to contact which are listed below.
Breathing Space Scotland:
0800 03 85 87
NHS 24 (Scotland)
NHS 111 (England / Wales)
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide and are at risk of harming yourself, please contact the Samaritans by telephoning 116 123