Off work with depression what are my rights

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Health Assured team

13 June 2019

So, you’ve followed all the advice. You’ve done the right things. You’ve taken control, and you’ve been signed off by your doctor with a fitness to work note for depression.

This is positive. Being able to spend some time concentrating on your own issues and working through your depression is great. But some people—especially those signed off work with depression, anxiety or stress—can feel guilty about this. It’s almost as if, because mental illness has few visible signs, it feels like the time off isn’t for a valid reason.

This isn’t the case at all. If your depression is severe enough for your doctor to sign you off sick, it’s a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Remember, the act states that:

“A person (P) has a disability if—

  • P has a physical or mental impairment
  • The impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

If I’m off work with depression, can I go out?

Being signed off with a mental condition isn’t quite the same as being signed off with a physical impairment. There’s a lot of fear of being ‘caught out’ when signed off sick—you may worry that people think of you as lying about your condition if they see you out and about. There’s a stigma, and it can be hard to ignore.

But depression is an illness which can be made easier by going outside, enjoying the sun, and catching up with people. You’re not expected to sit in a dark room thinking about the end of the world—in fact, it’s recommended to get back to nature to lift your mood.

You may be worried about bumping into people from work, and what they might think. Let them know that you hope to be back soon. You’ve been given some time off to heal—your boss and HR will respect that.

Disability and the law

Be sure to assert your employee rights with depression. If you’re signed off sick due to depression, you enjoy protection against discrimination in:

  • Recruitment and selection.
  • Pay, terms and conditions.
  • Sickness absence.
  • Training and development.
  • Promotion.
  • Dismissal.
  • Redundancy.

So, don’t spend the time you’ve been given worrying about your job. Use it to get better—in exactly the same way you’d concentrate on recovering from a physical illness. Ask for reasonable adjustments, a phased return to work, or more time if you need it. You have a right to each of these—use your rights, and get well soon.

How can you support your employees with depression?

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health when dealing with depression.

We support employees mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.


Find out more about EAPs



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