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Employers Need to Mind the Gap!


Mental health has moved higher up the workplace agenda when it comes to people management over the last few years with even more focus on the support that workers with mental health conditions may need.

The current pandemic has identified how vulnerable people with mental health problems are when it comes to their jobs and money; there are still many inequalities in the workplace then comparing this group with workers without mental health problems.

How have these inequalities been identified?

The Mental Health and Income Commission’s recent report has highlighted that there is still some way to go to address the differences in treatment between workers with mental health problems and those without mental health problems:

  • A mental health income gap of £8,400 per annum.

Lower employment rates and weaker wages are the main causes of the pay difference. Those who suffer from anxiety and depression are likely to experience a pay gap of more than £8,400 per annum.

  • One in five people with mental health problems in the UK have faced discrimination at work.

The most common types of discrimination have been cited as being passed over for promotion or being made redundant. Seven per cent of working age people with mental health problems have reported being made redundant compared with four per cent without mental health concerns.

  • Three in ten people with mental health problems experienced an income reduction during the pandemic.

Many of these individuals have gone without daily living essentials such as food and heating to address the loss of pay.

  • Only 15% of people with mental health conditions have ever asked for reasonable adjustments.

Of those who had made such a request, over 66% of requests for reasonable adjustments were reported as having not been met or only partly met.

Wide ranging recommendations have been made for employers

The report discusses the improvements that will help to reduce the pay gap and improve working conditions. Employers can make a difference by:

  • Providing mental health training

The training would ensure that line managers are able to offer support when needed. The aim would be to ensure that the working relationship becomes fairer.

If managers are better equipped, then there is likely to be an overall improvement in the quality of management, leading to lower absences rates and increased productivity

  • Offering roles flexibly

Flexibly working should be on offer to help new and existing employees to work in a way that is suited to their needs. Larger employers would be required to publish the number of applications received and the number of refusals.

Currently, only employees with more than 26 weeks’ service can apply for flexible working. However, there is some indication that in the future employers will be required to make flexible working the default position. The onus will be on the employer to show the role cannot be done on a flexible basis. The Commission suggests that this approach should be similar to the requirement under the Equality Act 2010 which creates a duty to consider reasonable adjustments to remove workplace disadvantages faced by people with physical and mental impairments

  • Developing a list of reasonable adjustments for employees

The aim of reasonable adjustments for individuals with mental health problems would allow them to remain in work. While many individuals with mental health problems have a legal right to request reasonable adjustments to their duties or workspace, the statistics show that many are not prepared to ask for assistance. This is the case even though the Equality Act 2010 provides protection for those individuals who have mental impairment that falls within the definition of a disability. Individuals who have a disability are protected from discrimination and employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

  • Providing a mentoring and support network

Such a network would enable individuals to remain in work and progress. The aim is to protect an individual’s income

  • Introducing a legal pay gap reporting requirement.

Larger employers would be placed under a legal obligation to report on pay to identify any inequalities between individuals with mental health conditions and those that do not suffer from them. Currently, the only legal pay reporting requirements relate to gender and apply to employers with a headcount of 250 people or more.

Employers must comply with the Equality Act 2010

The Commission’s report addresses some complex financial and social issues but the outcome is clear, those with mental health problems are not being treated fairly in the workplace.

While many employers are trying to do the right thing socially and by complying with the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that there is no disability discrimination and adjustments are made when reasonable, this is still not enough.

Employers particularly those with 250 employees or more could well feel the impact of this report in the future. The starting point is likely to be regulations which will require more transparency about pay; the objective will be to reduce the pay gap and address other inequalities.

For the time being, it is important that when it comes to mental health, risk assessments do cover mental wellbeing and are kept up to date, employees’ health issues are taken seriously and the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 are adhered to. These fundamental steps will assist to manage any legal risks and will be a good starting point to provide the support that individuals with mental health problems need.

FG Solicitors employment law specialists offers a proactive and practical approach, providing employers with confidence when it comes to managing their day-to-day employment law and HR issues.

If your business is concerned about managing ill health absences and reasonable adjustments find out what you CAN do by contacting FG Solicitors on 0808 172 93 22 for a no obligation discussion.

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This update is for general guidance only and advice should be taken in relation to a particular set of circumstances.

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