Work vs. Mental Health
(AKA Knowing Your Rights From Your Wrongs)
We’re passionate about promoting positive mental health here at CubeSquared, but we know not everyone is, so we wanted to put something together to help those (especially given the impact of the coronavirus) who may be looking for work with a mental health condition in tow.
Confucius once said, "find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life". Well, that's all well and good for him and his corner office, but what about the rest of us? What about the rest of us just trying to get through the day without punching that buffoon from Sales or from getting caught nicking all those pens? Exactly.
If those work-based annoyances aren't enough, if you're living with a mental health condition, then work can be so much tougher. For some, just getting out of bed is a Herculean task, let alone coping with additional deadlines, a huge workload or trying to create a PowerPoint slideshow that won't send everyone into a coma.
Just like life, work colleagues and management will have different viewpoints when it comes to mental illness. Some will be accommodating of your needs, others won't and it will be a source of contempt. Screw those guys!
With these different points of view, how helpful employers are will vary wildly, so it's important to know what your actual rights are. Can you punch that idiot from Sales? Probably not, but where DO you stand?
If you're in the UK (like we are), we can try and help, so let's take a look at another of our world-famous* Top 10 lists! Let's bloody do this! (* - not actually world-famous)
1. BEFORE YOU START WORK
Let's start before you actually have a job! What do you mean that's cheating? Oh, you sound just like that douchebag from Sales!
If you're in the position of looking for work, let's face it, you're not alone in that, it's important to know where you stand as you sit down for the interview. See what we did there ;-)
Let's say, for the sake of argument, you have depression. What next?
Any prospective employer can NOT ask you about your mental health unless they are:
Asking about any reasonable adjustments they need to make during the job application process.
Checking they have applications from a wide range of people; this might also include sex (as in gender, it's not a 'Yes Please' / 'No Thank You' thing), religion, sexuality, race, etc.
Ensuring that you will actually be able to do the job you're applying for.
2. TO DISCLOSE OR NOT TO DISCLOSE. THAT IS THE QUESTION.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with being open about any condition you might have, it's just that you don't HAVE to.
If you want to be open and tell them, feel free. The question you might want to consider though is whether to tell them before or after you get the job. If you don't get it, then I wouldn't bother!
If you DO disclose, then you will be protected under the Equality Act 2010. This means you can get any extra support you might need at work, ask for any reasonable adjustments to be made and, hopefully, get support from your lovely new workmates.
Depending on the environment, that might work against you (if they're a bunch of A-holes), so it will be your choice. Just remember, you're not legally obligated to do so.
The keywords here are 'reasonable adjustments' If you want them to build you a solid gold throne to sit on, then you're probably not going to get that, but if you need to sit in a particular part of the office, for example, or building in some 'work from home' hours, then you can certainly ask. It boils down to whether you would be at a 'significant disadvantage' without it.
It's not as onerous as it sounds. Employers don't necessarily have to foot the bill for any changes. They can get help through the Access to Work scheme, which can help to pay for practical support their employees might need to help start or stay in work.
Also, if the company has an Occupational Health department, then they may be able to help with this.
It might also be worth noting that when looking for a company clever enough to hire you, you might want to look for firms that display the 'Disability Confident' symbol. Like ours in the footer of every page (just scroll down, we’re not lying, in fact, we’re very proud of it!)
It was launched by the UK Government and was designed to encourage firms to recruit disabled people (this includes depression and other mental health conditions by the way). It does mean that they are more suited to hiring (and keeping) people classed as ‘disabled’.
3. THE EQUALITY ACT
Whilst we're on the subject of the Equality Act, nice segue I know, let's touch on that piece of legislation a little.
It classes depression as a disability, so is covered by this piece of legislation. The Act also covers things like bipolar disorder, dementia, OCD and schizophrenia, in fact, anything that is a "substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".
Because of this, employers can't (or shouldn't at least) discriminate against you when you apply for jobs, have a job or if you lose it through redundancy.
4. BENEFIT BITS
If you're starting work after being on benefits for a while, then it can be a financial tricky path to navigate. The time between getting your last benefit and your first bumper pay day can seem like a lifetime.
You may also be able to get benefits AND work, depending on how many hours you work. This applies if you've been on either Employment Support Allowance or Jobseekers Allowance.
5. SICK PAY
You've got your dream job (hopefully it won't be a nightmare) and things are going tickety-boo, but then you have a bit of a turn for the worst. Now what?
If you need to take time off for your physical or mental health, then they're also things you need to be aware of.
How much time you can take off ill, and how much you'll get (or for how long) will vary from employer to employer and their own policies. It might also be dependent on how long you've worked there, so giving a definitive answer here is a little harder.
Most will give you full pay for a short while, before reducing it to half-pay. When that happens, or stops completely, providing you have been off work for more than 4 days, then you can apply for SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) for up to 28 weeks. Then 28 weeks later? The zombies come ;-)
6. WORK....UNTIL YOU CAN'T
If you're off for more than 4 weeks, then your employer can refer you to Fit for Work. This is a UK government-funded initiative which offers advice on returning to work. They can also refer you to an Occupational Health professional (if your company doesn't have one) who will work with you to create a 'return to work' plan. So that’s nice.
7. I'M BACK BABY!
Depending on how long you've been off, even if it's only a short time, going back to work can be tough. Not knowing the reaction you'll get from colleagues when you return or even if it's just FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), then it can be an anxious time.
You can help to ease that by keeping in touch with your manager while you're off. This will mean that going back to work can be a little less daunting.
You don't have to be 'cured' to go back to work, as long as you can go back without making yourself worse or you don't feel under any pressure to go back, you should be fine.
You may need a ‘fit note’ from the GP and, if you do, you can ask them to recommend adjustments on the form for your employer to see, e.g. reduced hours at first, etc.
8. I'M NOT BACK BABY!
If your short-term mental (or even physical) illness becomes a long-term problem, then your employer can eventually decide to 'let you go', providing there are no reasonable adjustments they can make to keep you there.
This isn't a decision they'll take lightly, but remember that they're trying to run a business and can't keep your job open forever. They won't want to lose a good worker, so try and look at it objectively before firing off any strongly worded emails in the middle of the night after one-too-many bottles of wine.
9. MAKE A COMPLAINT
We'd like to think that all employers are honourable and trustworthy (like us), but sadly that isn't the case. Whatever your circumstances and whatever kind of employer they are, they do have to adhere to the law.
If you've lost your job, but you feel like they haven't done this lawfully and you have been unfairly discriminated against, then you can make a complaint.
There may be an opportunity to do this informally at first, just in case there has been a misunderstanding or miscommunication that can be easily resolved. If not, then it's time to kick on!
The company will have their own procedure for formal complaints, so speak to their HR or Personnel Department (or the Office Manager if they're only a small firm) and find out what the procedure is.
It might be worth getting in writing if you can. If this doesn't help, then you can take it to an Employment Tribunal.
10. MORE INFORMATION
Obviously, there's a multitude of people reading this and any number of individual circumstances to consider. We don't have ALL the answers, as shocking as that might be.
If you need any further help with work, then there are a number of organisations that specialise in this kind of thing. Citizen's Advice (they're not a Bureau anymore apparently) is a great place to start, but also an organisation called Benefits and Work has some excellent resources and an active forum where you can ask questions and (hopefully) get some answers.
If you're going through something, then probably someone else already has, so it can be a useful weapon to have in your arsenal.
We hope you find some useful hints and tips here, but these are just ours. If you've got any more to share, then please let people know in the comments section below. We're off to punch that pillock in Sales ;-)