Navigating the complexities of UK mental health employment law can feel like traversing a labyrinth. Yet, amidst this legal maze lies a crucial pathway toward supporting employee mental health in the workplace. In this article, we'll unravel the legal framework surrounding the mental health at work act, empowering HR professionals and people managers with the knowledge they need to foster a supportive environment. 

Are employers responsible for employee mental health?

This is one of those questions that have a “Yes, but…” kind of answer. On one hand, it is expected that the employer provides a safe space (in both terms, physical and mental) for employees to perform their job. On the other hand, there are situations and experiences that can affect an employee's mental health but that are not caused by the workplace or task per se. So… What is the relationship between mental health and employment law?

While UK law doesn't explicitly mandate employers to ensure the mental health of their employees, they are nevertheless bound by a duty of care. 

This duty encompasses a broad spectrum of responsibilities, including providing a safe working environment, mitigating workplace stressors, and anti-discrimination protocols or workplace harassment that could impact mental health.

Under the Equality Act 2010, if an employee's mental health condition qualifies as a "disability," the employer must make reasonable adjustments to the work environment. Failure to do so may constitute discrimination. 

It's advisable for employers to address mental health concerns by incorporating policies into staff handbooks or office manuals, distinct from employment contracts.  This mental health in the workplace policy should include: anti-discrimination protocols, specific mental health leave policies, occupational safety guidelines (on site and remote), disability rights, measures against workplace harassment, reasonable accommodations measures, and confidentiality protocols.

mental health policy at work

Which roles are responsible for the mental health of staff?

The question “are employers responsible for employee mental health?” takes to another interesting inquiry: who within your company should track and support your team’s mental health? In any organization, several key roles bear this responsibility, each contributing in unique ways to create a mentally healthy workplace.

  • HR (Human Resources): HR professionals play a central role in shaping organizational policies and practices related to employee well-being, including mental health. Their responsibilities often involve:        
    • Developing and implementing mental health policies and programs such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) and mental health awareness training to promote mental well-being.
    • Providing support and resources that work as a primary point of contact for employees seeking guidance or assistance with mental health issues, connecting them with appropriate resources and support networks.
    • Ensuring compliance with the mental health employment law of their country and other legal obligations regarding mental health, including addressing reasonable accommodations and preventing discrimination.
    • You can read more about the role of HR in the mental health of your team on our blog about this topic.    
  • Line Managers: They are at the forefront of employee interaction, making their role critical in fostering a supportive and understanding work environment. Their responsibilities include:        
    • Recognizing signs of distress since they are often the first to notice changes in employee behavior or performance that may indicate mental health concerns, allowing them to intervene early and provide necessary support.
    • Providing guidance and flexibility in workload management, scheduling, and work arrangements to accommodate employees' mental health needs, reducing stress and promoting work-life balance.
    • Encouraging open communication to create a safe space for employees to discuss mental health concerns without fear of stigma or reprisal.    
  • Occupational Health Professionals: They bring specialized expertise to the table, focusing on the intersection of health and work. Their responsibilities typically include:        
    • Conducting assessments and intervention that allow the company to understand and mitigate these factors to promote psychological well-being.
    • Providing clinical support and guidance to employees experiencing mental health challenges, facilitating access to counseling, therapy, or other mental health services.
    • Advising on accommodations for employees with mental health conditions, ensuring that workplace environments are conducive to their well-being and productivity.    

The law and regulations around mental health at the workplace in the UK

To help you better understand the mental health employment law in the UK, we have summarized the most important sections and what it means for your organization.

Regulation/Act Description Employer Responsibility
Equality Act 2010 Ensures protection against discrimination for individuals with disabilities, including mental health conditions. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with disabilities, including mental health conditions.
Disability Discrimination Act 1995 Prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including mental health conditions, in various areas, including employment. Follow best practices in handling disabilities at work, including mental health conditions.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Requires employers to assess and manage workplace risks, including those related to stress, to ensure the health and safety of employees. Employers must take measures to prevent or mitigate undue stress in the workplace to ensure the health and safety of employees.
The Working Time Regulations Act 1998 Sets limits on working hours, rest breaks, and holidays to protect employees' health and safety, including mental well-being. It aims to prevent excessive work-related stress by ensuring adequate rest periods and work-life balance. Employers must ensure adequate rest and work-life balance. Increasing the workers’ compensation for extra hours is necessary, but also is the right to rest.
Employer Duty of Care Imposes a legal obligation on employers to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of their employees, which includes addressing mental health concerns. Employers must take reasonable steps to ensure the physical and mental health of employees through policies, resources, and accommodations.

Disability Discrimination

Equality Act 2010

The Act protects against discrimination based on several characteristics, including disability. Mental health conditions can qualify as a disability under the Act if they have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

More specifically, it says that a mental health condition is considered a disability if it lasts or is expected to last at least 12 months. Conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can be covered if they meet this criterion.

It also defines several types of discrimination, including direct discrimination (treating someone less favorably because of their disability), indirect discrimination (policies that disadvantage people with disabilities), harassment, and victimization.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Before the Equality Act 2010, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) was the primary legislation protecting disabled individuals, including those with mental health issues, from discrimination.

The DDA aimed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment, education, transport, and access to goods and services. Mental health conditions were recognized as disabilities if they had a substantial and long-term impact on daily activities.

It also prohibited direct and indirect discrimination. While the DDA has been largely superseded by the Equality Act 2010, its introduction marked a significant step forward in recognizing the rights of disabled individuals.

Protection Against Undue Stress

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Employers are required to conduct thorough risk assessments to identify potential hazards, including work-related stress. They must take steps to prevent or control these risks to protect employees' health and safety.

The regulations require employers to monitor the health of employees who are exposed to significant risks, including stress. This can involve regular check-ins, surveys, and providing access to occupational health services.

The MHSWR also mandates that employers have procedures in place to deal with emergencies, which can include situations where stress levels become unmanageable.

The Working Time Regulations Act 1998

The Working Time Regulations Act 1998 (WTR) sets limits on working hours and provides entitlements designed to protect employees from overwork and undue stress.

It limits the average working week to 48 hours, including overtime. This cap helps prevent excessive working hours, which can contribute to stress and burnout. Employees can choose to opt-out of this limit, but employers must ensure this is voluntary and not coerced.

The Act also places additional restrictions on night work, limiting it to an average of eight hours in any 24-hour period. 

Employer Responsibility for Employee Well-being

Employer Duty of Care

Employers must conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential hazards and evaluate the risks associated with their work environment and practices. These assessments should cover physical risks, such as machinery and ergonomics, as well as psychological risks, including stress and workload.

Employers have a duty to provide support for employees experiencing mental health issues. This can include access to counseling services, mental health days, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and promoting a culture of openness and support around mental health issues.

For employees with disabilities or specific health needs, employers must make reasonable adjustments to their work environment or duties. This might include modifying workstations, adjusting schedules, or providing assistive technologies to ensure that all employees can perform their jobs effectively and comfortably.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways for HR and People Managers:

  • The mental health employment law in the UK your organization should be familiarized with is the Equality Act 2010, followed by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, to ensure compliance and promote disability rights.
  • Inclusive mental health policies usually cover reasonable accommodations, anti-discrimination, leave policies, and confidentiality to foster a supportive workplace and prevent harassment.
  • Recognize HR, line managers, and occupational health professionals' unique roles in supporting mental health, ensuring effective contributions to accommodations and the interactive process for disability support.
  • Fulfill the employer's duty of care by providing resources, accommodations, and support networks, promoting mental health parity, and preventing discrimination.

Mental Health Laws And The Workplace: FAQs

What types of mental health conditions are considered disabilities under employment law?

Mental health conditions that substantially affect a person's day-to-day life, such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD, are considered disabilities under employment law.

Can I terminate an employee due to their mental health condition? Which employment law covers this case?

No, termination solely based on a mental health condition is discriminatory and prohibited under the Equality Act 2010.

What are employers' obligations under the Equality Act 2010 regarding employees with mental health conditions?

Employers must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with mental health conditions, prevent discrimination, and promote equal treatment and opportunities.

Can an employer ask about an applicant's mental health during the recruitment process?

Generally, employers should not ask about an applicant's mental health during the recruitment process, except in limited circumstances where it directly relates to the requirements of the job.

How can employers manage sick leave for employees with mental health issues?

Employers should handle sick leave for employees with mental health issues with sensitivity and flexibility, providing support, access to resources, and accommodations as needed, while complying with employment law and company policies.