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Mental health; do you know your legal responsibilities

Mental health legal responsibility

Under the Equality Act 2010, any disability – either physical or mental – is a protected characteristic. And any problem that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your normal day-to-day activities is classified as a disability. But what about mental health problems?

Well, a mental health problem is classified as a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity:

  • Your condition is ‘long-term’ if it lasts, or is likely to last, 12 months
  • ‘Normal day-to-day activity’ is defined as something you do regularly in a normal day. This includes things like using a computer, working set times or interacting with people.

Any mental health problem meeting these criteria is legally recognised as a disability, regardless of whether the person actually considers it a disability or not.

So what does this mean for employers?

Reasonable adjustments for mental health

You have a legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments to the working environment, or even the job role, to help your employees overcome any disadvantages they face due to a disability. But what are reasonable adjustments?

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whether something is legally ‘reasonable’ or not depends on many factors including:

  • its effectiveness to overcome the disability;
  • the practicality of it;
  • the cost;
  • your organisation’s available resources to make adjustments; and
  • whether any additional financial help is available to you.2

Any people managers you have may be involved in discussing these and submitting a formal request for the adjustments your employee needs. You can find more information on what counts as reasonable from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Review your wellness strategy

Whilst you can’t always prevent mental health problems, you can improve your working practices to identify and support them. Not only does it help your managers to know what approach to take, it also means that your staff will know what support they can expect to receive.

There are also many products and services that you can implement to help keep your employees healthy and support them. For example:

  • Employee assistance programmes can deliver support to help maintain the emotional, financial and physical wellbeing of your employees, providing a qualified counselling service. Please note that this is not a regulated product.
  • Occupational health services can put in place the appropriate services, controls and measures to help rehabilitate your staff and get them back to work in a suitable role as quickly as possible. Please note that this is not a regulated product.
  • Critical illness cover may provide financial support to an employee to ease the financial burden placed of them and their family, so they can focus on getting well.
  • Plus, many group income protection products also offer early intervention services and rehabilitation support, as well as providing an income if your staff are off sick.

There are even some free services that you and your staff can access.

Don’t forget to think about the wider impact of mental health to you and your team. Consider the emotional impact, ensure clear communication and openness and highlight the support available as a team.


This article is provided for the purposes of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances. You should obtain specific advice before deciding to act (or not act) on the contents of this article. This article does not constitute legal or regulatory advice. We are not qualified to provide, and will not provide, legal or regulatory advice. We recommend that you obtain your own such specific legal or regulatory advice on matters from relevant professional advisers.

Sources:
1 gov.uk
2 equalityhumanrights.com

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Debra Clark
Debra sits on the Jelf healthcare management team and is dedicated to delivering top levels of customer service to all clients.