Mental health discrimination in the workplace and how to deal with it

Have you been absent from work because of a mental health issue?

Mental health is one of the most challenging issues of our times; accepted by parliament and the NHS to be a national (and indeed global) epidemic. Yet, take time off for stress or depression, or reveal any other sort of mental illness, and you may find doors will slam in your face.

Employers, particularly HR professionals, hate sickness. They especially hate sickness that they cannot see such as mental illness, as it is hard to prove. While all but the most heartless and unscrupulous of employer would allow an employee to take time off following a cancer diagnosis, support them through the treatment and welcome them back to work, the same cannot be said for issues of mental health.

Common reactions by employers to mental health sick leave

Regrettably, a significant number of our clients over the years have fallen ill because of stress, usually work-related, and have found that their employer’s reaction has been far from supportive. While the employer may pay lip-service to the usual requirements, so as not to fall foul of disability discrimination, their behaviour has actually lead to marginalisation and stigmatisation.

If you are reading this and are currently signed off work with a stress related illness, or with anxiety or depression, we realise that this is not the sort of thing you want to hear. However, while some employers (especially certain corporates) deal with their employees’ mental health issues very well, the majority of employers do not.

Some employers still hold out-dated and often negative views about people with mental health problems.  They may think the employee is lying in order to take time off and to orchestrate an exit package. Others simply cannot admit as acceptable an employee with diagnosed mental health issues returning to work, and working in a business where a mistake could cost money.  

If I’ve taken time off work for a mental health condition can I still get a settlement agreement?

What this all boils down to is that if you suffer from a mental health condition and have taken time off as a result of it (or are on long-term sickness) then the chances of you being offered a settlement agreement are high.

In all circumstances, if you are offered a settlement, it is vitally important for you to draw the link between your illness and the offer.

 

How to negotiate a good settlement if you’ve been off work due to mental health issues

HR professionals are terrified of being accused of disability discrimination and having to go to an Employment Tribunal and justify their actions. Almost always, the company will settle any claims or any threats of a claim well before this is necessary.

There is therefore a premium to be paid by the employer if it offers a settlement to someone who has diagnosed mental health issues, and you should not let your employer under-settle any claim you have.

If you’re unsure of how to go about starting negotiations with your employer just fill in a case details form to request a free phone consultation with a senior employment law solicitor.

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