By Kiran Daurka.
The leading mental health charity Mind has released details of its latest survey, which found that the recession had a damaging effect on the working population. The survey revealed that 1 in 10 workers had visited their GP with symptoms of mental health problems since the recession began. 7% of employees questioned had started taking anti-depressants.
The statistics will not surprise those working in the City. Hardest hit by the downturn and facing unique pressures, the proportion of financial sector employees experiencing stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions is likely to be higher than the general working population. City employees are under increasing pressure to work longer hours to carry out the work of colleagues made redundant, or to 'show willing' to avoid the risk of being selected for redundancy themselves.
Often employees facing such pressures are unable to obtain adequate support from managers and colleagues without feeling they have somehow failed. Managers and colleagues are under similar pressures anyway, and they may not be able to support others. Often employees will only seek medical or other therapeutic help once at breaking point.
Employees who suffer with a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, might be protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). Disability under the DDA is defined as follows:
'a person has a disability for the purposes of this Act if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'.
Concentration, understanding, learning and memory are the most likely normal day-to-day activities that might be adversely affected because of a mental health condition.
Consider whether you are able to inform your employer that you are suffering from a mental health problem that you think is affecting your normal day-to-day activities. You cannot seek protection under the DDA if your employer has no knowledge of your disability, but you may not feel comfortable in disclosing such personal information given the stigma that still surrounds mental health conditions.
Employers have a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' for disabled employees - provided that they are aware that an employee is disabled. Occupational health can advise as to what reasonable adjustments might assist. These could include more flexible working hours and arrangements (i.e. working from home), shorter working days, rest breaks away from your desk and effective support from managers.
If you are treated less favourably because of your disability, you may have a claim against your employer and should seek legal advice. If it can be established that your employer caused psychiatric damage, you could have further claims for personal injury. You may also have a claim if you, as a disabled employee, have experienced difficulties with your working environment which would have been alleviated had your employer made reasonable adjustments.
The cost of stressful work environments are high. Employers must recognise the impact that mental wellbeing has on their business and take progressive steps to alleviate stressful working environments. Employers should encourage a better work / life balance, with shorter working hours or time off in lieu when overtime is necessary. Widespread acknowledgement of the cost that mental health problems have on businesses, and progressive approaches to employee care, would benefit all parties over the longer term.
Kiran Daurka is a solicitor in the award-winning employment team at Russell Jones & Walker.