Mental Health Leave

The Mental Health Act (1983) covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with a mental health disorder in UK. Know your rights & laws here.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: April 26, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
mental health leave at workplace

It’s estimated that mental illness affects nearly a fifth of all adults in the UK. However, of those adults, less than half receive mental health support. If you’re suffering from a condition that’s making it difficult for you to keep working effectively, it’s important that you seek help. 

A mental health leave of absence is one of the many resources that could be available to you. Taking time off work when needed may help you reach your full potential and could benefit you and your employer in the long run. 

In this guide we will discuss what a mental health leave of absence is, what laws govern it, as well as the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and employee. Let’s begin.

What Is a Mental Health Leave of Absence?

A mental health leave of absence is a period of time where an employee may take time off work due to mental illness. Mental illnesses are not uncommon in the modern world, and there are many protections in place that can help you deal with them safely without losing employment. Depending upon your employer and individual job situation, a leave of absence may be one option available to you.

Mental health leave is not the same as annual leave, sick leave, or personal time off. Although you might be able to use these options along with or as an alternative to a leave of absence. 

How Can Mental Health Issues Present in the Workplace?

If you want to understand mental health leave, it’s a good idea to understand the issues likely to cause absence. The three most common issues are:

  1. Stress
  2. Depression
  3. Anxiety

These are extremely common in employees from all walks of life and all professions and aren’t always easy to spot on the surface. 

What Does the Law State Above Mental Health Leave?

The Mental Health Act (1983) covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with a mental health disorder. It lays out exactly how employees dealing with mental health issues should be treated and what their rights are. In short, employers are obliged to treat employees with mental health issues fairly and perform any and all reasonable adjustments to help with their issue and make working easier.

In severe cases, the individual in question may be detained under the Mental Health Act for urgent treatment. This often happens if they are at risk of harm to themselves or others. When these people are detained, they may need a long stay in hospital, which can lead to a longer absence from work. This is treated in exactly the same way legally as a stay in hospital due to a physical ailment, and an employer’s rights and obligations are the same. In these serious cases, a mental health leave of absence in the UK can be over a long time. 

Can I be Dismissed if I am Off on Mental Health Leave?

The short answer is, yes. Employees can be dismissed if they have a persistent illness that makes it impossible to do their job. This includes mental health issues including those where the employee is detained under the Mental Health Act.

It’s important, however, that the employer ensures that they follow a fair process in deciding to dismiss an employee due to mental illness. If not, they risk exposure to costly tribunal claims. In the UK, all employees with 2 years’ continuous service or more have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. This essentially means that if the employer wishes to bring the contract of employment to an end, they must be able to provide a fair reason for dismissal. This can include the employee’s inability to do their job for mental health reasons. The employer, however, must follow a full and fair procedure, providing the employee with an opportunity to address any capability issues, and giving them sufficient time to recover.

Can Mental Health be Considered a Disability?

Yes, it can. In circumstances where the employee’s mental health issues amount to a disability, the employee is entitled to reasonable adjustments to be made to minimise any disadvantage arising from that disability when doing their job. This may mean changing the working environment or even allowing extra time away from work to deal with the disability.

Employer Best Practices for Dealing with Mental Health Leave?

As an employer, if someone needs time off because of a mental health issue, it’s important to take the matter seriously and be supportive.

As an employer you should look into the following practices:

  • Look at how the workplace deals with absence to find out how this particular mental health issue should be managed. You may need to be more flexible with the rules and treat the issue as a disability, especially if the illness falls under the Mental Health Act.
  • Keep in touch with employees during the absence. Check in on how they are and ask how you can support them to return to work. Be wary of putting the employee under undue pressure but don’t be afraid to ask what you need to do to get them back into work.

Remember the amount of time off may be different in all occasions and may be dependent on how severe the issue is. Factors that may impact on this include:

  • The person affected. Everyone experiencing a mental health issue is different and there is no one way of dealing with problems.
  • The amount of support required. An employee might need continued support or time off after they return to work.

Are There any Tech Solutions That Can Help with Mental Health Leave?

Yes, there are. There are a variety of HR software solutions that allow employers to manage absence of employees, including those on mental health leave. These can allow businesses to monitor and record absences as well as track the number of days off sick an employee has had. 

In Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed our guide to mental health leave. For more informative workplace information, check out the rest of our website.

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Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)