The culture of silence must end
Posted Friday 20 January 2012
Pauline from our Legal Unit blogs about what we've been doing to help employers understand the impact of mental health problems on staff and encourage a culture of openness in the workplace.
Many people are understandably hesitant to tell their employers about a mental health problem - in our survey last year one in five people said they were afraid that even mentioning they were stressed would put them first in line for redundancy.
But there are legal protections to prevent discrimination in the workplace. If you are applying for a job your prospective employer is not allowed to ask questions about your health until a job offer has been made.
If you are working and need to tell your employer about your condition there are also safeguards. The Equality Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability – a mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
If your health condition is a disability then your employer must consider making reasonable adjustments to help you at work.
If you think that you are being discriminated against there are places to turn for help. Mind operates a Legal Advice Service, you can email us or ring 0300 466 6463 for information. You can also find useful guidance from the TUC, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Rethink Mental Illness.
With mental health problems, some signs are obvious and others less so. Having difficulty concentrating could be seen as a performance issue but equally could be a symptom of stress or depression. Employees may find it beneficial to keep a positive dialogue going with managers or HR about their health condition, but are often unable to.
Mental health is still the elephant in the room in most workplaces – employees are reluctant to raise the subject, for fear of discrimination, while managers often shy away from the subject, for fear of making matters worse or provoking legal consequences. This culture of silence means undetected mental health problems can spiral into a crisis, resulting in sickness absence.
But there are things employers can do. We’ve been working with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and have developed a guide for managers to help them facilitate conversations about stress and mental health problems and put in place support so employees can stay well and in work.
We know that people have difficult experiences at work because employers or colleagues are unsympathetic, but when you are unable to work or need help to overcome disadvantages that result from your disability, the law is on your side.
Employers may get it wrong – callers to our Advice Line tell us that employers don’t let them return to work after their GP says that they are fit to work with adjustments in place.
Just this week on Twitter an employee told his manager about his depression and was promptly fired. This is a far too common experience. A Mind survey of 2,000 workers found that of those who had disclosed a mental health problem to their boss in a previous role, 22% had been sacked or forced out of their jobs.
Employers have a duty to support you to stay in work if you can, to accept that you will need time off if you are ill and even perhaps to pay you in full if they decide to keep you at home while Occupational Health carry out a review into reasonable adjustments.
Too often they don’t.
If you’re worried about how your employers will react, or if you’re struggling to cope with a mental health problem now, please contact us for advice.
Pauline Dall, Head of Legal at Mind
Time to Change (run by Mind and Rethink) is challenging stigma - at work and beyond - to make it easier for employees to talk about their mental health problems.
Have a look at our Taking care of business campaign pages and help us transform attitudes to mental health in the workplace.
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