Mental Health Discrimination

18 February 2022

Whether it’s intended or not, it is unlawful to discriminate against mental health at work.

Employers must protect their staff’s health and wellbeing–and that includes their physical and mental states.

If you neglect this legal duty, employees may choose to leave your business. They could even raise discrimination claims, resulting in costly penalties for your business.

In this guide, we’ll uncover the causes of mental health discrimination, the laws against unfair treatment, and how to eliminate it from the workplace.

What is mental health discrimination?

Mental health discrimination is when someone is treated unfavourably because they suffer from a psychological illness or condition.

Under the Equality Act (2010), some mental health conditions can be considered as a disability. This is generally when an illness might be long-term or impact their daily activities.

It’s discriminatory to treat someone unfavourably because they have a mental health disability.

Different types of mental health discrimination

There are several types of discrimination that employees can face at work. These are:

Here are some examples of mental health discrimination at work:

Direct mental health discrimination: An employee mentions they suffer from ADHD and is denied promotional opportunities because of it.

Indirect mental health discrimination: An employee suffers from anxiety attacks. They’re told to publicly present a task, just like everyone else on their team.

Discrimination due to disabilities: An employee is disciplined for regular absences, which relate to their post-natal depression.

What are the laws on mental health discrimination?

There isn’t a specific law on mental health discrimination at work, in UK law. However, it does sit with legal rights for employees.

The Equality Act (2010) protects people with disabilities from unfair treatment–mental illnesses included. The Act outlines, you cannot treat an employee unfairly based on these protected characteristics:

  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Gender.
  • Marriage and partnerships.
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  • Race.
  • Religion.
  • Sex.
  • Sexual orientation.

If an employee believes they were treated unfavourably because of their mental health, they could raise a discrimination claim.

These claims are judged in employment tribunals, where you could end up facing expensive legal fees and damages to your business.

Can you dismiss an employee because of a mental health condition?

If an employee cannot perform their job because of their mental health condition, you can fairly dismiss them. It is only considered fair when reasonable adjustments aren’t sufficient, resulting in further business losses.

Before actioning any form of dismissal, you must follow a fair dismissal procedure. And it should only be used as a last resort.

How to eliminate mental health discrimination at work

This is best done through promoting respectful attitudes; and celebrating equality and diversity. And this can be taught through work practices, cultures, and from management themselves.

Here’s how to eliminate mental health discrimination at work:

Offer reasonable adjustments

These are reasonable work adjustments that allow employees to work sufficiently, just like anyone else.

You can offer things like flexible working hours or amended job conditions. You can even provide tailored support, like counselling, health assessments, and mentoring.

Introduce equal opportunity policies

It’s so important to ensure every employee is treated fairly within your company. One way you can do that is by introducing policies on equal opportunities and anti-discrimination.

Your policies should clearly outline a zero-tolerance for discrimination, harassment, and victimisation–with potential consequences for misconduct.

Provide empathy training to management

One of the best ways to incorporate a positive viewpoint on mental health, is to teach it to employees further up in the chain of command.

Provide your managers with training on empathy and emotional intelligence. They’ll be able to promote mental health awareness during work; and, and eliminate stigmas and discrimination.

Put a grievance policy in place

Employees must fully understand how to raise claims and how they’ll be resolved. You must have a grievance procedure for claims on mental health discrimination.

If the matter cannot be solved informally, you need to investigate and action appropriate grievance steps.

Failing this, employees could raise their claims to employment tribunals. And this could end with expensive legal fees and damages to your business name.

Can mental health discrimination ever be justified?

In some cases, discrimination can sometimes be legally justified.

This is when you show, ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

These ‘aims’ must be seen as reasonable. For example, reducing health & safety risks or meeting business needs.

You must show your actions were necessary, for the sake of the business or employees.

Get expert advice on dealing with racial discrimination with Peninsula

You have a legal obligation to ensure all employees are protected from discrimination of all kinds.

If they begin to feel unappreciated or disrespected, they could leave your company. And dealing with retention will be the least of your problems.

Peninsula offers expert advice on eliminating mental health discrimination. Our HR services guide you through employee rights, helping you create a healthier and equal work culture.

We also offer 24/7 HR advice that’s available 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants. Call 0800 028 2420

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