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Equalities and Rights Equalities and Rights

Ensure employers fulfil their responsibilities to those with mental illness

Last updated: 12:15pm 20 September 2019

We will also reform outdated laws to ensure that those with mental illness are treated fairly and employers fulfil their responsibilities effectively.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.57

Our verdict

Please note this verdict focusses on the employers’ responsibility part of the promise. The promise to ensure that those with mental health are treated fairly is treated separately. 

to In the UK, approximately 1 in 6 people of working age and 1 in 8 employees have a diagnosable mental health condition. In most circumstances, mental illness qualifies as a disability, and is therefore one of the characteristics protected against discrimination by the Equality Act 2010; this means that it is illegal for employers to treat employees and candidates less favourably because they have a mental health condition, and they are expected to reasonably accommodate their employees’ condition.

So far, the government has mentioned the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace quite a few times; on World Mental Health Day in October 2018, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy encouraged greater awareness of mental health in the workplace, and in November 2018, the Health Secretary announced government plans to consult on potential measures that would encourage employers to support more disabled people into work and provide better access to occupational health.

However, in terms of actual measures taken, the focus seems to have been placed more on encouraging and guiding businesses to support disabled staff and staff with mental health conditions, rather than on implementing legislative change, as suggested by the policy promise. For example, Public Health England and Healthy Working Futures worked together to launch an information and guidance initiative for employers on how to support employees with mental health conditions.

The only information provided about a possible legislative change is alluded to in the government’s response to the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers, specifically the point encouraging legislative change ‘to enhance protection for employees with mental health conditions’. The government responded that it ‘is exploring a number of options to extend protections from discrimination in the workplace, including through the Equality Act 2010, for people with mental health conditions’ and will make an announcement when appropriate.

So far, no relevant announcement appears to have been made, and so, in the absence of any tangible evidence of progress, we are marking this policy as ‘not started’. It will be marked as ‘in progress’ if the government starts taking steps towards enacting legislative change.

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