Mental health in the workplace – FAQs
7 May 2021 by Aaron Pottle
One of the many outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the increase and exacerbation of mental health conditions, triggered by social isolation, working at home, and the loss of coping mechanisms. There is also a degree of anxiety for many about returning to the workplace. How can you make sure you’re being treated fairly? How can a Solicitor help?
Following on from this week’s Law Society Solicitor Chat, Aaron Pottle from FJG’s Dispute Resolution team has provided some answers to a few frequently asked questions around this topic.
What rights do employees have in the workplace when it comes to their mental health?
All employers have a common law duty to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees. They have a duty to see that reasonable care is taken to provide them with a safe place of work, safe tools and equipment, and a safe system of working. Employees suffering from long term mental health issues may not be understood properly by employers and their behaviours and any deficiencies in their working practices may need to be considered in light of protections which exist around their protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, depending on whether the employer was informed or ought to have known about there being a disability.
Can an employee insist on continuing to work from home on the grounds of their mental health?
It may not be possible to insist on working from home, depending on the nature of your employer’s business. Most contracts of employment have a requirement that the employee must appear at a designated place of work. However, where someone meets the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to safeguard them from a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person, this could extend to include the workplace environment and location. In the first instance, it is usually advisable to speak to your employer about your concerns to see if an agreeable solution can be found.
What counts as discrimination in the workplace?
Discrimination is generally the less favourable treatment of somebody on account of a protected characteristic. It may also manifest in both direct and indirect ways. Discrimination can also happen where something in consequence of another persons’ disability causes them to be treated differently. Under the Equality Act 2010, the protected characteristics are; age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
What can an employee do if they feel they’ve been discriminated against because of their mental health at work?
Employees should have regard to their workplace’s policy handbook in regard to mental health issues and if they feel that they have been discriminated against and wish to take formal action in regard to that, then filing a grievance may be advisable.
Are employees entitled to sick pay and time off work for mental health issues?
Those suffering from mental health issues may have a right to receive contractual sick pay if they are off work by reason of this. As to statutory sick pay, if an employee is incapacitated because of a mental health issue, then they may not be fit for work and may be eligible to receive statutory sick pay.