Mental health issues can create employment law pitfalls

Mental Health: Employment Law Rights And Pitfalls12th Dec 2019

by Hugh Reid on 12th Dec 2019

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One-in-four adults will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. It can impact on their work – and they can claim discrimination if an employer mishandles the situation. 

Discrimination is extremely serious. Employees who suffer discrimination have rights under the Equality Act 2010. There is no limit to the compensation an employment tribunal can award them.
 

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When Does It Officially Become A Mental Health Issue?

The Equality Act 2010 does not require an individual’s mental health issues to be very serious before it can be considered a disability.

Precise diagnosis is immaterial as long as the condition fits this legal definition:

“Any physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

Long-term means 12 months – or a condition that is likely to last 12 months or longer.


Mental Health Disability Discrimination Claims

Employers who treat employees with mental health issues less well than other employees could be vulnerable to disability discrimination claims.

Employment tribunals heard 6,500 disability discrimination claims in 2018. That is 36% more than in 2017 (4,770). This growth rate is eight times faster than the increase in total claims over the same period.


Example Of Mental Health Disability Discrimination

The following Employment Appeals Tribunal case shows how easily an employer can trigger (and lose) a disability discrimination claim involving mental health issues.

And how expensive it can be...

In the case of City of York v Mr PJ Grosset, a teacher showed an 18-rated film (Halloween) to a class of 15- and 16-year-old students – without first gaining the permission of the school or the parents. He was dismissed for gross misconduct. 

The teacher won his case on the basis of disability discrimination. He suffered from cystic fibrosis but because of increased workloads he said he could not cope – which in turn increased his stress to extraordinary levels. This made it an issue of mental health and disability.

The court held that the teacher had been discriminated against because of something arising out of his disability – and awarded him £646,000.


The Stevenson/Farmer Report – And What It Means For You

On January 9 2017 the then Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned an independent report into mental health in the workplace. It was carried out by Lord Dennis Stevenson (former HBoS chairman) and Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind).

Their report was published on October 25 2017. It stated that:

  • “As a result of decades of ignoring the problem, general understanding of mental health is limited.”
  • For most people, mental health is not a simple binary ‘yes/no’ issue – it is a constantly shifting spectrum.
  • “The correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill (and possibly off work).”

The report has six core recommendations for employers:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and what support is available
  4. Provide employees with good working conditions
  5. Promote effective people management
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.


You Are Not Alone

Workplace mental health issues are commonplace, creating challenges for employees and employers alike:

  • one-in-four adults in the UK will experience mental health problems at some point
  • one-in-six people in England were prescribed anti-depression medication in 2017
  • 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year
  • poor mental health costs employers up to £42 billion per year.


Get Employment Law Advice On Mental Health Issues

For more information about making or defending an employment law claim involving mental health issues, contact solicitors Hugh Reid at Coles Miller’s Poole office, 01202 355695.