Mental Health Time off Work

  • Occupational Health
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Worried about employees taking absences? Mental health issues are classed as an illness or disability. Read here to know exactly what you need to do to support and stay compliant.

Companies may often see situations where staff take mental health sick leave, especially in these troubled times. The truth is that mental health issues at work can be varied, caused by a multitude of issues and very complicated to get right.

Work and mental health go hand in hand. Spotting the signs that an employee is struggling with their mental health is essential.

How you respond to this and how you help them when they are going back to work after mental health leave is crucial to maintaining strong relations with staff and putting their wellbeing first.

Let’s explore how to manage mental health absences and how you can support those returning.

Mental health leave from work   

As mental health illnesses are seen as any other illness, employees can take time sick leave because of them.

Regardless of the reason of staff being unable to work due to mental health, you should process time off taken as sick leave. If they are off work for at least four days, they should receive at least the current rate of statutory sick pay (SSP).

If employees are off work for 7 days or less, they do not need to give you a fit note or other proof of sickness from a medical professional. However, they will need to give you proof if the leave is longer than 7 days.

When they return to work, you can ask them to confirm they’ve been off sick. This is called self-certification.

Employees who are off work sick for more than 4 weeks may be considered long-term sick. And leave due to mental illness often ends up being longer because of a general lack of education around it.

Below looks at the different notes and processes employees will need to go through t certify any issues they’re having.

Time off work with anxiety and stress

Stress can manifest itself in different ways. It is the idea that staff are struggling at work because of their mental health.

For example, they could be feeling increased anxiety about work because of workloads, personal circumstances or even a dispute with a colleague.

Whilst there is a difference between feeling high levels of stress, and actually suffering from the mental health disability of anxiety, one can easily lead to another.

Employees in this situation can seek a note from their GP to be signed off work with stress and anxiety if applicable.

When going off work with stress, employees should present this note to their employer, which should dictate how long off work with stress they think they should have.

Time off work with depression

Similar to anxiety and stress, there can be a difference to periods of depression and suffering from a depression-related disability.

Though depression is far more likely to be a long term health issue than anything stress related.

Similar to anxiety, employees in this situation can seek a note from their GP to be signed off work because of depression.

Mental health and work rights

Some mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, are considered disabilities for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

This means that if staff do have to take mental health leave from work and appropriate procedures are not followed, included if they are subjected to a detriment as a result, they could potentially bring a costly claim for discrimination.

Even conditions that are not technically considered a disability, such as stress, should still be responded to and managed carefully. Stress can easily lead to anxiety at work which, if left unchecked, could cause the exacerbation or creation of a mental health disability.

So, when a member of staff feels too anxious to work, it is important to listen to them.

Going back to work after mental health leave 

Whilst the company’s initial reaction could be one of frustration, they should be prepared to take a step back and consider ways they can support the employee and, crucially, offer them help getting back to work after they’ve been signed off with anxiety or other mental health issues.

When returning to work after time off for stress, hold a return to work interview after stress leave. This is between management and the employee in order to find out the problem and work to do something about it. For example, it may be that workloads can be re-assessed, or further action taken if the stress does relate to a colleague.

Returning to work after stress can be difficult for staff and should be managed carefully. If their concerns are ignored, the company risks them taking more time off in the future and, potentially, the mental health problem only getting worse. 

When mental health is a disability

If it gets worse, it could turn into a disability. The Equality Act protects people with mental health disabilities. Meaning you can face disability discrimination claims.

The law considers a mental health condition a disability if it has a long-term effect on someone’s normal day-to-day activity.

  • Long-term means that it will last or likely last at least 12 months.
  • Day to day activity means something done every day, like using the computer or talking to colleagues.

When it becomes a disability, you are expected to make reasonable adjustments for this person. If you don’t, an employment tribunal can find you guilty of discrimination.

This makes it especially important to help employees back to work after this period of leave and help them manage their health at work.

Anxiety at work

Employees who already suffer from anxiety have a number of additional rights that the company must be aware of. This includes making reasonable adjustments to assist them in continuing to conduct their role.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety are as follows:

  • Feeling restless or nervous.
  • Having panic attacks.
  • Fast breathing.
  • Nausea.

Therefore, if an employee in this situation tells you that they are struggling and feel they can’t work due to anxiety, you must consider adjustments you can make to assist them in their role.

This can be done through consultation with them, and it may be that their GP or another medical professional is asked to comment.

Unable to work due to depression

Similarly to anxiety, depression is also considered a mental health disability.

If an employee is unable to work due to depression, they will show some of the following symptoms:

  • Continuous low mood or sadness.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • No motivation or interest in things.
  • Lack of energy.

Staff who feel they can’t work due to depression should be treated in the same way as any other illness. This means they should be able to take sick leave and receive sick pay for depression if eligible.

Employers may ask if there is a set procedure for a member of staff who is returning to work after depression. The truth is that conditions of this nature do not just go away overnight and indeed there may be times when it starts to take its tole regardless any previous time off an employee has had because of it.

That said, when going back to work after depression related absence, management should again consider reasonable adjustments that can be made to support staff in this situation. This may involve a phased return to work after depression.

Mental health back to work support with Peninsula

There are additional steps that a company can take to support staff as they return to work, which includes the use of an Employee Assistance Programme. This provides third-party support to staff who are struggling with both personal and professional issues.

If you need further advice on an employee returning to work after stress leave or have just had an employee signed off work with anxiety, Peninsula can help you ease them back. Get in touch today on 0800 028 2420.

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