Discrimination at work
Some of us experience disability discrimination at work because of our mental health. Find out about the laws that protect us from discrimination, plus where to go for support and advice.
Telling my employer
If you have a mental health problem, you might feel unsure about telling your employer about it. You might feel worried about confidentiality or unfair treatment because of it.
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 how your mental health problem can affect your job.
- Who you want to share it with. For example, you might tell the human resources (HR) department about your diagnosis, but you don't have to tell your supervisor or colleagues.
For more information about telling your employer about your mental health, see our pages on how to be mentally healthy at work.
Some employers 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 your employer.
It can help to have a note from your doctor or another professional to explain:
- What mental health problems you have
- How they may affect you at work
- What reasonable adjustments might help you to manage your work
You could also show your employer our information on different types of mental health problems.
Your employer is under a duty to make adjustments if both of these conditions are met:
- Your mental health problem is a disability
- A feature of your work is causing you major disadvantage because of this disability
If so, the employer must make adjustments for you to avoid this major disadvantage.
Examples of adjustments you could ask for include:
- Changes to your physical work environment
- Changes to your working hours
- Spending time working from home
- Taking time off work for mental health treatment, assessment or rehabilitation
- Temporarily finding someone else to do tasks you find stressful and difficult
- Getting some workplace mentoring
What counts as ‘reasonable’?
The adjustments have to be ‘reasonable’ for your employer to make. Whether a change is reasonable or not depends on the circumstances of each case. For example:
- If the adjustment brings a solution that helps with your disadvantage
- How practicable it is for the employer to make the adjustment
- Your employer's size and resources available, including financial resources
- What financial or other assistance may be available to make the adjustment
To think about what changes could help you at work, try talking to your GP or another health or social care professional who knows about your mental health problem. You should also get a letter from them to back up any request you want to make.
Employers can sometimes get financial help with making reasonable adjustments, including cost of transport. This might be from the government's Access to Work service. Free mental health support in the workplace is also available from Able Futures.
Example of a reasonable adjustment: working hours
Liz works in a flower shop which employs 5 people. The shop is open from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, the same working hours as Liz.
- It is not reasonable for Liz's employer to pay for her travel to and from work by taxi. This is too costly for a small business.
- It is not reasonable for Liz's employer to adjust her role so that she doesn't have to work on the till. This wouldn't address or resolve her disadvantage in getting to and from work on time.
- It might be reasonable for Liz's employer to adjust her working hours from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Then she doesn't have to travel during peak rush hour. This would be practicable for her employer, as Liz can open up the shop and process overnight orders before the shop opens to the public.
Examples of reasonable adjustments: creating a plan
Jorge has generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). His contract of employment says that:
- His hours of work are from 9 to 5 daily
- His place of work is the head office of his employer
His employer's sickness policy says that if employees have more than 5 days off in any 3-month period, they'll be invited to a sickness absence meeting.
When he first read the policy, Jorge told his employer about his mental health problem. He explained that his contract requirement to work 9 to 5 in the head office would be difficult at times of stress. Together they came up with a plan to help Jorge with his work.
This plan includes:
- Letting him work from home when he is feeling anxious
- Giving him flexible start and finish times
- Giving him a work mentor who can support him during stressful periods at work
- Allowing slightly longer periods of absence before taking action under the sickness policy
Writing a letter to ask for changes at work
If you want your employer to make reasonable adjustments, you may want to write a letter setting out what you need.
To help you draft your letter, you may want to get some:
'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.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
The job of an occupational health professional is to assess you to find out:
- how your work impacts your health
- if you're fit for the work you do
- what adjustments may need to be made to support you at work.
Your employer can refer you to occupational health if you have a physical or mental health problem that is affecting your work or causing you to take time off sick, particularly if this is more than two or three weeks at once.
If you disagree with their assessment, it is important to seek advice.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
These are changes that:
- organisations and people providing services and public functions
- education providers like universities and colleges
- managers of properties like landlords
- clubs and associations
should make for you if you are at a major disadvantage because of your mental health problems and it is reasonable.
Examples of reasonable adjustments include:
- making changes to the way things are organised or done
- making changes to the built environment, or physical features like steps or doorways around you
- providing aids and services for you.
This information was published in November 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.