Time off work for depression

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Health Assured team

07 June 2019

Employees going to work when they’re experiencing depression is counterproductive to all involved.

As well as their mental health, depression can negatively affect their productivity and the organisation’s overall goal.

While some may still consider it a ‘taboo’ subject, the majority of employers now recognise the impact it has on the workforce. In 2017, the Thriving at Work review was commissioned by the UK government. It found that there’re now more people with on-going mental health conditions working than ever before.

Research also estimated the cost of taking time off work for anxiety and depression and other mental health issues was around £8 billion annually. This figure puts employees’ average time off work with depression and other illness at around 25.8 days per year.

Our previous piece highlighted the process of getting a sick note for depression. In this article, we explore the duration of work absences due to depression as well as some benefits of returning to work after time off.


How long can you be off work with depression in the UK?

There isn’t a specific answer.

Under the Equality Act 2010, any mental health condition that has long-term (12 months) or substantial effects is considered a disability.

So how long can you be signed off with depression? For as long as you need to get better. Some employees may need to take time off for treatment while others could just require a couple of days away from work.

It’s possible to return to work before a fit note runs out. In most cases, the note specifies how long you can be off work with depression but employees can return sooner if they feel ready to do so.

Remember, you aren’t obligated to provide your staff with paid sick leave just because the absence is related to a disability.

It’s worth noting, if an employee is unable to work and there aren’t any reasonable adjustments that can be made, you can dismiss them. This should be considered as a last resort and you’ll need to prove that you explored all options for reasonable adjustments to help them stay in their role.


Benefits of returning after time off work for depression

There’s evidence that taking prolonged absences from work can worsen depression.

The Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) found that employees are less likely to return to work when they’ve been off work for over a year.

Research suggests that returning to work after an extended period off for depression, anxiety, stress or other mental health conditions can be a positive experience. It’s said to provide them with:


How can you support employees off work with depression?

Our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide comprehensive mental health support to your employees – whenever they need it.

Whether they’re personal or professional challenges, our EAP offers a safe space to talk through it all.

If you have any questions, call us on 0800 206 2532

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