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Dispute Resolution & Employment law for employers

Mental health problems force thousands out of work



A recent report commissioned by the government has estimated that approximately 300,000 people lose their jobs every year because of mental health problems.

The authors of the report found that employees with mental health problems were 50% more likely to lose their job compared to those with physical disabilities.  But of course the relevant legislation, the Equality Act 2010, treats mental and physical conditions the same; either can amount to a disability if it is sufficiently serious.

Disabled employees have extra protection under the law.  Not only must employers not harass or directly discriminate against them; they also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them.  Reasonable adjustments are not just limited to physical features like wheelchairs ramps.  They can include:

• Additional training and supervision

• Extra sick leave

• Flexible hours or working from home

• Changing some of the employee’s duties or allocating them a different role

But employers can only make reasonable adjustments if they are aware of the need, so this duty only kicks in when an employer knows about the disability, or if they could reasonably be expected to have known.  So employers need to be alert to any signs from their employees indicating that they may have a long-term health problem.  In particular, they should look for sick notes that refer to “stress”, which is often a euphemism for conditions like depression.

Employees need to talk about their mental health problems, and the support they need, with their employers.  This is obviously easier said than done, with many employees lacking confidence that their employers will be sympathetic or helpful.  But they should understand that the law on disability discrimination is on their side.