Anxiety and depression is a tricky issue – one that leaves many employers not knowing exactly what to do. Even a large organisation such as the NHS struggles with it, as has been seen in recent news.
Since 2010, the number of cases where employees in NHS trusts have been off sick due to mental health problems have doubled – reaching 41,112 staff off with anxiety, stress and depression in 2014.
Of course, these sorts of statistics have to been taken with a pinch of salt; mental health is something that has become more openly talked about in recent years, so staff may have felt more ready to come forward about it, as opposed to more people actually suffering.
However, it certainly shows that mental health is a greater concern in the workplace now – so how does this affect employers? Is it a disability which could affect performance, and affect disciplinary processes?
One such Employment Appeal Tribunal case – again in the NHS – has highlighted this issue.
The case surrounds the dismissal of a Mr Saad, a hospital doctor working at University Hospital Southampton, who claimed disabilitydiscrimination when his fixed term contract was not renewed because his anxiety and depression was affecting his ability to do his job properly.
It was eventually decided that the decision not to renew his contract was fair, as Mr Saad was not classified as disabled under current equality legislation. It was not disputed that he had a mental impairment because of his anxiety and depression, but in order for it to amount to a disability in law it had to seriously affect his ability to carry out simple day to day activities like getting dressed or travelling to work, and this impact had to be long term. The court decided that this wasn’t the case here.
So what does this mean for employers?
It’s good to hear – although this is a much larger organisation – that an employer can work on the basis that a mental impairment will not always be automatically classed as a disability.
However, employers shouldn’t see this as setting a precedent. Mental illness can clearly be a disability in some cases if it affects day-to-day activities, for example if they genuinely can’t even get out of bed or make a cup of tea due to their impairment.
Whatever you do as an employer, don’t panic and don’t jump to conclusions. Anxiety or depression can be triggered by almost anything, and individual employees will react differently. So just because it happens once, doesn’t mean it will happen again.
All the more reason that employers consider what they can do to help their staff get back to work as quickly and as sensibly as possible, should it be an isolated incident.
If it isn’t though, it may well be that employers need to consider it as a disability. In which case you will need to try to makereasonable adjustments so that they can still do their job. Perhaps a ‘buddy’ to provide them with additional support should they need it, or giving them the leeway to work from home should they wish and if this is feasible for you.
It’s a difficult area, but one that can be handled as long as you treat employees reasonably and fairly. And remember, there’s no need to panic should depression or anxiety cause problems for an employee – simply –do your best to get them back and working in as reasonable a time frame as possible.