Mental health at work - what employees need to know
In our previous blog, we covered what employers should do to manage and prioritise mental wellbeing in the workplace. This week, we again refer to Mind - the mental health charity that assisted us in our nationwide mental health management workshops - to cover what employees should be aware of in matters that concern their mental wellbeing in the workplace.
The legal definition of a disability
While there has commonly been a clear distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘body’, it’s important to note that both physical and mental illness are classed as a disability according to the Equality Act. The law states that you are disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse, and long term effect on your normal day-to-day activities. Below is everything you need to know about your rights as an employee, originally published by Mind.
When communicating to your employer, the focus should be on the effect of your mental health problem, rather than the diagnosis. For this reason, you need to show that your mental health problem:
- Has more than a small effect on your everyday life
- Makes things more difficult for you
- Has lasted at least 12 months, is likely to last 12 months, or (if your mental health problem has improved) that it is likely to recur.
Workplace discrimination and your rights as an employee
If you feel that you have been subjected to discrimination for either a mental or physical disability, your employer may be held accountable by law if you can prove that you have been a victim of either direct discrimination, discrimination arising from a disability, indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation or duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Communicating to your employer
If you have a mental health problem, you might not want to tell your employer about it because you are worried about confidentiality or how you may be treated. However, if you have a mental health problem that is a disability and you want the protection of the Equality Act, your employer needs to know this.
If you do decide to tell your employer, think about:
- How and when to do it. It can be helpful to have a note from your doctor to help explain your situation.
- How much information you want to give. You don’t have to go into personal details, just focus on what you need for the job.
- Whom to share it with. For example, the human resources department may know your diagnosis, but they don't have to tell your supervisor or colleagues.
For more information about telling your employer about your mental health problem, see also How to be mentally healthy at work.
If your employer has asked you questions in the past about your health or disability and you did not tell them about your mental health problem then, and now you do want to tell them, you should get some specialist legal advice. See Useful contacts for more information.
Sometimes your employer may accept what you say without asking for more information. But, because mental health problems aren’t visible, it may be hard to explain your situation to them. For this reason, it is helpful to have a note from your doctor to explain what mental health problems you have, how they may affect you and what adjustments might help you to manage your work.
Your employer can then refer you to occupational health if you have a mental health problem that is affecting your work or causing you to take time off sick, particularly if this is more than 2 or 3 weeks at once. Occupational health referrals will help your employer understand what adjustments need to be made to support you at work.
To get any adjustments you have to tell your employer about your mental health.
Examples of adjustments you could ask for include:
- Changes to your working area
- Changes to your working hours
- Spending time working from home
- Being allowed to take time off work for treatment, assessment or rehabilitation
- Temporarily re-allocating tasks you find stressful and difficult
- Having a mentor
The adjustments have to be reasonable, and you have to show that you are experiencing substantial disadvantages because of your disability. Whether a change is reasonable or not depends on:
- If the change deals with the disadvantage.
- How practicable it is to make the change.
- Your employer’s size and financial and other resources.
- What financial or other assistance may be available to make the change.
Employers can sometimes get financial help with making reasonable adjustments including cost of transport from the government’s Access to Work service: find out more on the Gov.uk website. This also offers a workplace mental health support service for employees and prospective employees with mental health problems: find out more on Remploy's website.
A Wellness Action Plan
Given the high levels of stress and poor mental health in the workplace, there is a growing demand for innovative and proactive ways of managing our mental health at work. A Wellness Action Plan (WAP) is a personalised and practical tool by Mind that anyone can use to help them identify what keeps them well at work, what causes them to become unwell, and how to address a mental health problem at work should you be experiencing one.
It also opens up a dialogue with your manager or supervisor in order for them to better understand your needs and experiences to ultimately better support your mental health, which in turn leads to greater productivity, better performance and increased job satisfaction.
A WAP should cover:
- Approaches you will take and behaviours you can adopt to support your mental wellbeing
- Early warning signs of poor mental health that your manager or supervisor can look out for
- Any workplace triggers for poor mental health or stress
- Potential impact of poor mental health on your performance, if any
- What support you need from your line manager
- Actions and positive steps you and your manager will take if you are experiencing Stress or poor mental health
- An agreed time to review the WAP and any support measures that have been put in place to see if they’re working
- Anything else that you feel would be useful in supporting your mental health
The WAP is not legally binding, but is intended as an agreement between you and your manager in order to promote your wellbeing or address any existing mental health needs including any adjustments you may wish to discuss.
For more information on this topic, read here!
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