Depression: Your Rights At Work
When we have depression, basic life tasks can be difficult, so trying to work on top of that can be a real challenge. Depression can interfere with our ability to work – for some of us that might mean we can’t work at all, for others it might mean that we need certain adjustments in the workplace.
(Please note the information that follows applies to the rights at work for those based in the UK. Other countries will have different systems and regulations).
The Equality Act of 2010 classes depression as a disability. This means that depression is protected under the equality act. Employers can’t discriminate against us when we apply for jobs, when we’re at work, or if we lose our job, including losing it through redundancy, based on our depression. Employers must also make reasonable adjustments when we are at work.
Applying For Jobs
Employers can’t ask us questions about our mental health before offering us a job, unless they are: asking us about any reasonable adjustments we need during the application process, checking that they have applications from a diverse range of people, or finding out if we will be able to do tasks central to the role.
Disability Confident Symbol
Disability Confident is a campaign which was launched by the government last year. It’s designed to encourage employers to recruit disabled people. When applying for jobs, if an employer has the disability confident symbol, it means that they are good at recruiting and retaining disabled people.
To Declare Or Not To Declare
Different employers will have different levels of understanding when it comes to depression, so it’s good to know what our rights are.
When we apply for jobs we will always have to decide whether or not to declare our depression, and if we do decide to declare it, whether to tell our prospective employer at the application stage, or once we’ve been offered the job. Disclosing means that we are protected under the Equality Act, it can allow us to have extra support at work, apply for reasonable adjustments, and potentially get support from our colleagues. However, we could also unfortunately be judged by our colleagues or boss. Legally, we are not obligated to disclose our depression; it is our choice to tell our employer if we have a mental health condition.
Access To Work
Access to work is a scheme which can pay for practical support that we might need to help us start working, stay in work, or start our own business. For example it could help to pay for taxi fares if we are unable to use public transport, or could pay for a support worker to help us in our job.
Working And Benefits
When we start working, it might impact the benefits that we receive. If we are currently claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA), we are allowed to do a certain amount of work and still claim it, the same applies for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA).
When we are working, if we have disclosed our depression to our employer, they legally have to put reasonable adjustments in place if we would be at a significant disadvantage without those adjustments. Adjustments can include things like building in some work-from-home hours, being allowed time off for appointments, or using voicemail to take messages if we struggle with phone calls. Our employers can get financial help with reasonable adjustments through the Access to Work scheme. Some workplaces might have an occupational health department who might assess our ability to carry out our job, and suggest adjustments our employers could make to help us stay in the role.
Fit For Work
If we have been off work for more than four weeks, our employers can refer us to Fit for Work. Fit for Work assessments are a government-funded initiative who can offer advice on returning to work, and can refer us to an occupational health professional who can help us to create a return to work plan.
Pay While Off Work
Sometimes our depression may reach a level where we have to take time off work as sick leave. The amount of time we continue to get paid at our full wage will vary from job to job, depending on our employer’s policy and how long we have been in the job. Some jobs will continue to give us full pay for a number of weeks and then reduce it to half pay. Once we are no longer receiving pay from our employer, and we have been off work for more than four days, we can receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks.
Returning To Work
Returning to work after being signed off for a while can be really hard. It can help to stay in touch with our employer while we are off, so that returning feels less daunting. We don’t have to be completely free of depression to return to work, but also shouldn’t feel pressured to return before we are ready. We are likely to need a ‘fit note’ from our GP to return to work – on that note our GPs have space to recommend adjustments that could help us to return, such as returning on reduced hours for a while and slowly building up.
Keeping Your Job
If we are completely unable to do our job due to long-term illness, and there are no reasonable adjustments that can be made to help us stay in our job, our employer can dismiss us. This would be a last resort, and our employers should always try to put adjustments in as much as possible, to help us stay in our role.
Making A Complaint
If we feel that we have been unfairly discriminated against, we can make a complaint. To do this we could start by raising the problem informally, we could then go through formal procedures. If we still don’t feel like the issue is resolved, we can complain to an employment tribunal.
If you need further assistance negotiating your rights at work, there are organisations that can help. Benefits and Work have excellent resources and an active members forum where you can ask questions. Citizens Advice can also be extremely helpful: they have lots of information on their website or you can contact your local bureau for personal advice.