Discrimination at work: how to tackle mental health stigma

4 min read  |   15 March, 2023   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

A woman wearing a white t-shirt is sat on a grey sofa and holding one hand to her head.

Discrimination is the term used to describe unfair treatment of another based on prejudice, character traits or differences.

It's fair to say that HR departments are more than familiar with the woes of workplace discrimination and most companies now provide specialist training for managers that covers age, race and sex.

But what about mental health discrimination at work? In this blog, we look at what counts as mental health discrimination and what constitutes having a disability under the Equality Act 2010.  


What is mental health discrimination at work?

According to Mind's Disability Discrimination guide, mental health discrimination is where:

People with mental health issues are treated unfavourably in the workplace because of their mental health condition. This is called discrimination and, if you experience it, you may have the legal right to challenge it. 

There's just one catch. For your claim to amount to mental health discrimination, you'll need prove that your illness is a disability. (Don't worry, we'll explain more later.)


What is the Equality Act 2010?

This is a UK law that protects you and your employees from discrimination and offers the right to challenge behaviours and treatment. The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination when:

  • Applying for work, in employment and when you leave your job.
  • Using public services such as shops and hospitals.
  • Dealing with organisations who carry out public functions like tax collection and crime investigation.
  • In education (schools, colleges and universities).
  • Purchasing or renting property.
  • Signing up for private clubs and associations.

Is mental illness a disability?

The Equality Act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

An employee will need to have medical evidence that they have suffered with the condition for at least 12 months. 

According to the Equality Act 2010 and irrelevant of the mental health diagnosis, employers and employees qualify for protection as long as they can prove that their mental health disorder is a disability. Under UK law, a mental health condition is considered a disability when the claimant provides evidence that:

  • they have a mental impairment – this could be a note from their doctor or therapist.
  • it is long term – they have suffered with the same condition for over 12 months in one period.
  • it substantially affects daily life –  if they were without medication or treatment, their mental condition would have / continues to have a major effect on day-to-day tasks.
  • it has an adverse effect –  because of their mental condition they find it harder than others to perform tasks.


Young depressed woman thinking about her problems-min


Preventing mental health discrimination at work

Someone with depression may not consider themselves to have an impairment or a disability. 

But if someone suffers from a mental impairment (like an anxiety disorder) that is long-term, has a substantial effect on their daily life & has an adverse effect then they would be classed as having a disability under the Equality Act.

Under this, they would be protected against discrimination. Find out more about disability discrimination in our blog. 

As with any employment issue or grievance, be sure to record dates and incidents within 3 months minus 1 day of when the last incident took place. For all impartial legal advice, contact ACAS

For more information and to keep up to date with mental health in the workplace, discrimination and topics tailored to SMEs, make sure you subscribe to our blog.


Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter as of February 2023, Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With a passion for guiding readers to solutions for their HR woes, she enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: From employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

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