Stepping into a new role, working with a different employer and embracing a fresh environment can be a daunting experience if you’re also juggling a mental health problem. You may be contemplating whether to approach your employer to inform them of your mental condition, weighing the benefits and drawbacks.
Finding the courage to share the details of your condition may leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable, but the returning support may provide the safety and reassurance you need to feel comfortable in your new role and fulfill your responsibilities.
What does the law say?
To begin with, we answer the question – Am I legally required to disclose my mental health condition to my employer?
The simple answer is no, this is a personal matter and as such, an employer can only require you to answer this question after making a job offer. This is typically a requirement as it informs the employer of any reasonable adjustments you may require. You may find that accessing support is easier if you disclose your condition, making your work life more accommodating.
If you decide to keep your mental health condition private and your employer dismisses you as a result of capacity limitations, you will not be able to defend your claim using discrimination as a stance. This is because the employer was unaware of your condition at the time of your appointment.
To tell or not to tell
If you’ve had a previous bad experience after disclosing your mental illness to a former employer, you may be on the fence about putting yourself in the same position. In an attempt to protect yourself from being disadvantaged as a result of discrimination, you may decide to hold off on sharing this information.
The reality is that every employer is different, so where one employer may be dismissive or ignorant towards your mental health condition, another employer may be attentive, committed and kind-hearted. If the employer is deliberately discriminatory towards you, there are legal avenues you can take to ensure that you are treated fairly. As mental health sits high on the agenda, more so than in previous times, there are support services that can be accessed through work to help you cope with mental health and work-related pressures, such as counseling and Access to Work.
Mental health support in the workplace
When discussing the support measures which can be made available to you in the workplace, this can range from discretionary arrangements with your employer, reasonable adjustments and government-supported schemes.
Under the Equality Act 2010, your employer is required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that you’re not at a disadvantage in comparison to other employees; this includes the likes of amending or improving the following:
- Shift times and flexible working
- Changing policies
- features such as a support chair or private desk
- Extra aid equipment through the Access to Work scheme
- Adapting role responsibilities
- Time off work for treatments and rehabilitation
If traveling to work at peak times puts you at a disadvantage, you have a right to request a change in shift times if appropriate to the job in question. Similar adjustments can include permission to withdraw from networking events and mass attended social events if this provokes anxiety.
Juggling thoughts on disclosing mental health illness in the workplace
The task of informing your employer about your mental health is a mighty one, taking into consideration the mental preparation, the nerves and predicting the anticipated outcome. If your mental health illness doesn’t interfere with the job in hand, you may feel that there’s no need to inform your employer, however, if work pressures influence the extremity of your mental health illness, you may reconsider sharing this information.
If you feel that by disclosing your mental health problem to your employer, it will trigger it to further deteriorate; you may decide not to inform your workplace for good reason. However, if you are directly asked to complete a confidential health questionnaire, you will be required to disclose your illness.
If you believe that the workplace will not be accommodating about your mental health, further disadvantaging you, for example when concerning career progression, you may decide to keep this information private.
Mental health discrimination in the workplace
If you feel that you are being treated at a lower standard than others at work due to your mental health illness, you have a legal right to complain. Discrimination as such can be challenged under the Equality Act if your mental health is classed as a disability. The Equality Act details that for your mental health illness to be classed as a disability, it must have a long-term adverse effect on your normal day-to-day responsibilities. This should be judged on the effects before taking any medication to settle adverse effects.
If you meet the above criteria and your mental illness was in the past, you will still be covered by the Equality Act.
Challenging discrimination in the workplace
There are several routes you can take to dispute unjust treatment, such as unfair dismissal, resulting in either the workplace to provide reasonable adjustments or compensation.
By resolving the dispute informally, you can save money otherwise spent funding court costs and valuable time. Resolving the issue informally can mean entering a less pressured environment and dealing directly with familiar faces. Resolving the matter formally can include a host of new representatives in an unfamiliar setting, adding to the pressure.
Formal internal complaints procedure
Every professional workplace will have an internal grievance procedure where employees can confidentially make a complaint. This is typically directed to HR and any relevant management staff. By taking this route, you can directly address your dispute in a suitable setting in an attempt to reach an agreement.
Early Conciliation with ACAS
This is essentially a halfway bridge between settling your dispute informally and taking your claim to the employment tribunal service. To begin early conciliation, you will be required to complete a conciliation notification form. The process consists of an ACAS conciliation mediator to help both parties reach an agreement by exploring the available options.
When submitting a claim to the employment tribunal service, you will have a time limitation in which to submit your claim. Limitation periods are typically three months but can vary to six, dependent on the type of claim. If you are medically unfit as a result of the discrimination that took place, leading you to lodge a late claim, you may be granted an exception and be able to still submit your claim under special circumstances.
Whilst undertaking the process of early conciliation, the time limitation on submitting your tribunal claim will halt, restarting once the early conciliation certificate has been given. The certificate will be issued if a resolution cannot be reached, a party fails to participate in the discussion or if there’s no reply to the request.
Employment tribunal service
An early conciliation certificate will be required to lodge your tribunal claim at court. A pre-hearing will take place to clarify the claim and to flesh out the finer details. You will then be offered mediation services to settle the claim at this stage, cutting out the final hearing. If you refuse this, the final hearing and judgment will take place.
In the event of a disagreement, a remedy hearing will take place in which the details of the agreement will be ironed out to ensure mutual understanding between both parties. If either party further disagrees with the final decision, the next step would be to embark on an appeal process.
When weighing your thoughts on whether to inform your employer or not, take into consideration how this will affect your working life and whether this is for better or for worse. It is important to understand that you are entitled to support services that can guide you into making an informed decision by considering all the possible outcomes.
Figures show that 44 percent of work-related ill health can be attributed to work-related stress, depression, and anxiety, and 54 percent of working days were lost as a result of 2018/19. The research carried out by the HSE (Health & Safety Executive), a government body established to improve both physical and mental health and safety in the workplace shows an increasing level of strain on employees, impacting mental health.
The release of the HSE statistics titled Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, addresses the core cause as to what’s contributing to work-related stress. This includes the likes of increased responsibility, lack of managerial support, role uncertainty, all of which contribute to existing mental health illnesses.
If you have a mental health illness that affects your working life, you are not alone – one in four are expected to experience a mental health illness during their lifetime. There are support services and advice you can access to help make your decision and cope with the pressures of the workplace.