Mental health and dismissal

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Health Assured team

20 October 2021

Like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can affect employee's lives at work. If an illness makes it impossible for an employee to do their job, then employees can be dismissed due to mental health—following a full and fair process.

But it’s the employer’s responsibility to protect employee mental health. Dismissal should be the last resort. Employers must make suitable adjustments and support employees with any issues. They have a duty of care to do so.

This guide will cover mental health and dismissal from an employer perspective. We’ll look at when it's okay—and when it's not okay—to dismiss an employee with mental health problems. We'll also consider how mental health issues can impact life at work and the ways employers can help.

Mental health issues at work

Mental health can be generally defined as a person’s ability to cope with the daily demands of life. A mental illness can stop a person from being able to meet the demands of their normal routine. Common mental conditions include:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But there are many more illnesses that could be affecting your employees right now.

How can mental health issues affect employee work life?

There are a variety of ways that mental health issues can affect an employee’s life at work. Here are some things you might notice from an employee with mental health problems:

  • Decreased levels of productivity and motivation.
  • High-pressure tasks might be a struggle.
  • Increased absence levels.
  • A lull in team morale.
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • Mood swings.
  • Uncontrollable outbursts of emotion.
  • Changes in sleeping and eating behaviours.
  • Excessive fear, worry or anxiety.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. Everyone’s experience of mental health problems will be different and unique to them. But these are some common ways an employee performance is affected.

Can you fire someone for mental health issues?

There are some cases where you can be fired for mental health in the UK. It’s fair to dismiss an employee because:

  • They’re unable to do their job properly.
  • They have a persistent long-term illness that makes it impossible for them to do the job.

However, employers must take action to avoid this. This could include:

  • Giving employees reasonable time to recover from a long-term illness.
  • Looking for ways to support employees at work.
  • Giving employees a chance to improve their work with training.

Dismissing an employee with mental health problems

As an employer, you have a duty of care to look after your staff. Employees are protected by UK employment law from unfair dismissal due to mental health issues. If you’re going to dismiss an employee, you must be able to show that:

  • There’s a valid, justifiable reason for doing so.
  • You’ve acted reasonably under the circumstances.
  • You’re consistent with your decisions.
  • You’ve investigated the situation before making a decision.

Unfair mental health dismissal is illegal. If someone isn’t happy with the way they’re being fired for mental health issues, they may claim discrimination.

Unfair dismissal for mental health in the UK can lead to employment tribunals, costly fines, and a damaged business reputation. To prevent this, employers must minimise factors at work that could cause mental health issues.

What factors at work could be causing mental health issues?

Employers have a duty of care to protect employees from harm at work. Common reasons an employee might experience mental illness at work include:

  • Receiving abuse from other colleagues.
  • Not receiving support or training.
  • Not being able to cope with the workload.

Employers must minimise risks to employee mental health in the workplace. We’ll cover some ways you can begin to do this below.

Ways to avoid dismissal for mental health issues

Employers must consider ways to improve employee mental health. Unfair dismissal isn’t an option.

There are steps you can take to prevent dismissal. Mental health can have a huge impact on employee performance. That’s why it's essential employers begin to prioritise it in the workplace.

A well-rounded approach to employee wellbeing benefits staff, employers and the business too. Here are some things you can do to help.

Training for line managers

Provide training to line managers on mental health in the workplace. They are often the first port of call when it comes to taking care of employee wellbeing. Make sure all line managers are checking in with employee health in weekly meetings. Don't let small problems slip by—they might become serious issues later down the line.

Implement an employee assistance programme (EAP)

The last resort should be dismissal. Mental health problems can improve with an employee assistance program.

EAP's offer counselling and mental health services to employees. This will aid recovery, reduce anxiety and see employees return to work quicker than without the intervention.

Wellbeing surveys

Employers can keep their finger on the pulse of employee wellbeing with a regular survey. Asking questions like: ‘How happy are you in your role?’ and ‘is there anything that we could do to support employee wellbeing in the workplace?’ will direct you towards areas of improvement.

Mental health first aiders

Mental health first aiders are like physical first aiders. Instead of physical illnesses, they help people who are struggling with mental illnesses in the workplace. This course can teach your employees tips and guidance on supporting employees while at work.

Get help from Health Assured with mental health and dismissal

Health Assured’s services can help to improve the mental health in your workplace. Our BACP-accredited counsellors can support your employees with their mental health at work.

The service offers short-term goal-oriented counselling that aims to resolve workplace issues. As well as other more specialised interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy. This can prevent employers from needing to dismiss employees for mental health reasons.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants. Call 0844 891 0353 for help on promoting health and wellbeing at work.

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