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Mental Health at Work FAQs

Mental Health at Work FAQs

Recent research has confirmed that there is still a culture of fear and silence around mental health at work, which can prove costly to employers. We look at what is mental health, what managers can do to help and how to avoid discrimination.

Mental health is more common that you think. One in four people will experience symptoms of mental ill health during their lives.
70 million working days are lost in this country every year due to depression, stress and other mental health conditions according to the Chief Medical Officer for England. It is said that the cost estimate to the economy of mental ill health range from £30 billion to £100 billion per year.

Mental illness can cause personal suffering both to the person affected and their family and whilst the figures mentioned above are enormous, the effect on the individual should not be ignored.


Mental health is the mental and emotional state in which we feel able to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life. Mental ill health can range from feeling 'a bit down' to severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder as well as including more common disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression.

As mental health issues are often caused, or contributed to, by pressures of work, employers are in a unique position to prevent problems from arising, to identify them and to assist employees when they do occur. 


Under the Equality Act 2010, a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. In order to be 'long-term', the adverse effect must have lasted (or be expected to last) for more than 12 months.

A serious mental health issue will often constitute a disability, whether it is a long-standing problem or something that has been diagnosed recently.

Some forms of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, depression obsessive-compulsive disorder and, are likely to be classed as a disability.

Stress is now one of the most common reasons for absence from work, accounting for around half of all sickness absences, but it may or may not be a disability, depending on the circumstances. 


 This is one of the most significant questions; it is vastly important to tackle mental illness in the workplace before it becomes a major issue. A few years ago a Germanwing's pilot deliberately crashed into the French Alps after hiding his mental health issues from his employer.

An employee's manager is too often unwilling to intrude into the employee's personal life but it is important to take action, particularly if there are concerns about the safety of the employee, their colleagues, or the public.

Employers and managers can help by establishing a culture of openness and taking steps to promote mental wellbeing at work, such as:

  • Monitoring workload
  • Holding return to work interviews after sickness absence
  • Holding regular review meetings with individuals
  • Carrying out staff surveys
  • Making flexible working arrangements available
  • Offering resilience training
  • Reviewing sickness absence data

An employee's line manager is often the first to notice changes in behaviour or performance that could indicate a mental health issue. They should be trained to identify the symptoms of mental illness and what to do if they spot a potential problem. This could involve speaking to the employee and referring them to occupational health, their GP, the Fit for Work service or counselling. 

All employers have a legal duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. An employer should be carrying out risk assessments and managing activities to reduce the incidence of hazards. 


Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must not treat a disabled person less favourably for a reason relating to their disability, without a justifiable reason. This means that an employer must not:

  • Refuse to employ someone because of a disability
  • Subject them to a detriment such as paying them less, offering them fewer hours of work
  • Refusing to send them on a training course or failing to promote them
  • Dismiss them without having a good reason and following the correct procedure
  • Allow a disabled employee to be bullied or harassed

Employers are also under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support disabled employees at work. In the case of those with a mental illness, this could mean being more flexible around start times, reducing workload, moving the employee's workstation to somewhere quieter, allowing a phased return to work from sickness absence, transferring the employee to other duties or decreasing working hours. Reasonable adjustments should be discussed and agreed with the individual and employers should avoid making assumptions about the employee's illness or stereotyping the employee.


For expert legal employment advice on mental health in the workplace, Pinney Talfourd solicitors in Essex and London are able to assist. We have an experienced and dedicated team of specialist employment lawyers based in offices across the county who have advised employers upon how to best tackle mental health issues at work.

We have late night and Saturday appointments available and offer a free initial telephone consultation for all new employment law enquiries. You can book your free initial employment consultation using our online booking form or by calling your local office. This telephone appointment will allow you to explain the situation with an expert lawyer and discuss the best steps to minimise stress and delays.

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