Mental health: Know where you stand in the workplace

Many with mental health issues worry they'll be seen as weak, incompetent and unreliable (Source: Getty)

Mental health is an issue which businesses can no longer ignore. According to research from the Health Survey for England, more than one in four adults has been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

While today’s society is more accepting of mental health issues, many workers still choose to hide their conditions. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Absence Management Survey 2015 indicates that stress and mental ill-health remain two of the most common causes of long-term sickness absence.

Sufferers are often worried about the stigma attached. Will they be perceived as weak, incompetent and unreliable? What impact will this have on their career prospects, even job security?

So what rights do workers have and how do they protect themselves?

LEGAL PROTECTION

As a general rule, employers have a legal duty to take reasonable care of the health of all of their staff. This doesn’t mean that they can’t make challenging demands of workers, but they must ensure that such demands are reasonable and comply with their legal obligations, like permitting staff to take their rest breaks and holiday.

With respect to long-term health issues, a worker may well be suffering from a disability and therefore have additional protection under the Equality Act 2010. The term “disability” is often misunderstood and does not automatically apply to everyone with a medical condition. However, if the worker’s condition is long-term and impacts on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks, they may be protected.

If you are disabled, and the employer is aware of that, they are under a positive duty to consider (but not always make) “reasonable adjustments” to working practices.

PRACTICAL STEPS

So what steps should you take next?

See your GP

The employee needs to understand their medical condition and what they can or cannot do. It is not uncommon for workers to be signed off with work-related stress so it is important to get to the root cause of the problem and identify solutions.

Read work-place policies

Many businesses have clear written policies on worker well-being and outline what support may be available. This may also include access to a free confidential support helpline.

Raise concerns as soon as possible

Most employers are committed to supporting workers through difficult times or ill health. If they are not made aware of a condition, there is little that they can do to help. If your employer is unaware of your health issues, they may have to make decisions about your employment without being aware of the full facts.

What changes can be made?

Even if a worker is not disabled, they should not be afraid to ask their employer for changes to working practices. Do they need more support from management? Would reduced hours solve the problem?

Exercise your legal rights

If your employer does not wish to help, consider more formal options. If changes to working practices would be useful, why not make a formal flexible working request?

If all else fails and the employer does not take your concerns seriously, raise a formal complaint under the internal grievance procedure, seeking a resolution to the issues.

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