A general guide on how you are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act and what your rights are.
'Disability' has a special legal meaning under the Equality Act, which is broader than the usual way you might understand the word. Even if you don’t think you have a disability, the Equality Act may protect you from discrimination if your mental health problem fits its definition of disability.
The focus is on the effect of your mental health problem, rather than the diagnosis. So you need to show that your mental health problem:
Simon has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He has to check and recheck whether lights are switched off and doors are locked. This can make him late for work or other appointments. His obsessive thoughts often distract him from activities that he is doing and disrupt his daily routines. His mental health problem therefore has a substantial adverse effect on the way he does things.
If you are getting some treatment or taking medication for your condition, you ignore the effect of your treatment when deciding whether your condition is having a substantial, adverse effect on your daily activities. This means the law is looking at how your condition affects you without your treatment or medication.
Mohammed has long-term anxiety and is being treated by counselling. Anxiety would normally make him find simple tasks difficult. Because he has counselling, he is able to get up and go to work.
The Equality Act says you have to ignore his treatment in deciding whether his mental health problem has a substantial adverse effect on his day-to-day activities and so he has a disability.
You are still protected from discrimination if you had a disability in the past. That means that if your past mental health problem had a substantial, long-term and adverse effect, you will get the protection of the Equality Act.
Four years ago, Mary had depression that lasted 2 years and had a substantial effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. She has not experienced depression since then.
If Mary is treated worse by her employer because of her past mental health problem, she will be protected by the Equality Act.
You can ask yourself these questions:
If you answered “yes” to all three questions, then your mental health problem could get the protection of the Equality Act.
If you want to get the protection of the Equality Act, you may find it helpful to get some evidence from your GP, or another medical professional. You can ask them to write a letter saying whether they think you have a disability under the Equality Act. It would be particularly useful if they can give their opinion on the answer to each of these three questions.
Esra doesn’t consider herself disabled because she doesn’t receive disability benefits and she is physically healthy.
Esra has been living with an anxiety disorder for the past 3 years. Because of this, it takes her a longer time to do things like get up in the morning, dress herself for the day and do the shopping. She takes medication to control the symptoms.
Esra would be protected by the Equality Act because she has:
'Disability' has a special legal meaning under the Equality Act, which is broader than the usual way you might understand the word. The Equality Act says that you have a disability if you have an impairment that is either physical or mental and the impairment has a substantial, adverse and long term effect on your normal daily activities.See our full list of legal terms.
There are many situations in which you may feel treated unfairly because of your disability, but the law only covers these types of discrimination:
In the UK, law that protects you from discrimination is called the Equality Act.See our full list of legal terms.
This information was published in August 2019. We will revise it in 2022.
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