Mental Health Discrimination: What is it?

Back in October 2019, Megan Markle revealed during an interview that she has been struggling with her mental health due to the pressure of her role. This prompted a backlash from members of the public with many protesting that the Duchess could not suffer with mental health issues due to her privilege. This is simply untrue, anyone can suffer with mental health issues regardless of their position, and as such employment laws are in place to protect individuals from discrimination regardless of their seniority.

What is Discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination occurs when an individual or group is treated unfairly by their employer because they have a certain characteristic. The Equality Act 2010 provides protection from unfair treatment and discrimination in the workplace for certain protected groups of people. One of these protected groups are those who suffer with disabilities.

What is a Disability?

A disability is a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. This includes mental health issues such as depression and anxiety amongst many other conditions. As such, if you have suffered with a mental impairment for a period of 12 months, or are likely to suffer for a period of 12 months, then you may have a disability.

What Counts as Mental Health Discrimination?

There are many ways that an employer can discriminate against you on the grounds of mental health. Direct discrimination occurs if you are treated less favourably by your employer. However, discrimination can also indirectly affect workers if a policy or practice puts those with disabilities at a disadvantage. An example of this would be if a company introduces a policy that all employees must meet a target attendance and those who fall below the target will be subject to disciplinary action. This type of policy would unfairly affect those who may be more frequently absent due to their disabilities.

Mental health discrimination does not only affect employees, but can also affect potential employees and workers. If an employer refuses to give you a job as a direct result of your disability they may also be discriminating against you. Employers can also discriminate by association (if you are connected with a person who suffers with a mental disability) or by perception (if an employer incorrectly believes that you have a disability).

In addition it is possible for an employer to discriminate against you due to issues arising from the disability, but not due to the disability itself. An example of this would be if an individual is taking medication which makes them tired and therefore sometimes late to work, if they are subjected to disciplinary action by their employer they may have be discriminated against due to a behaviour arising from their disability. Those who suffer with mental health disabilities can also be the victims of harassment and victimisation.

What can be done?

If you are at a disadvantage because of your disability, your employer is required to consider making reasonable adjustments (such as making changes to the work environment, changing the way things are done, and putting services in place to assist you). These reasonable adjustments must be carried out at the employer’s expense.

If your employer fails to make reasonable adjustments, or discriminates against you in any other way, you may be able to pursue a claim in the Employment Tribunal. If you require assistance in relation to discrimination, please contact me on 01702 238514 or [email protected].

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