Depression is a mental illness which is both debilitating for the sufferer and difficult for an employer to navigate sensitively. There may be instances where a long term sufferer will be absent from work for prolonged periods when their symptoms prevent them from being fit to work. The key for an employer is to help a returner ease back into work and to ensure their manager is be able to deal with them sympathetically.
Legally, depression constitutes a disability under the Equality Act 2010 which means that someone suffering from depression cannot be treated less favourably because of this protected characteristic.
Employers’ duties for those going back to work after depression:
- removing the employee from front line client facing duties;
- flexible start times (to the extent that this does not have a negative impact on your ability to efficiently run the business);
- part time working or light duties
The duty to make reasonable adjustments is on-going and should be periodically reviewed. The onus is not on the employee to suggest what reasonable adjustments should be made. Try and strike a balance between the needs of your employee and your business.
Where an employee is returning after a period of absence due to depression, best practice would be to conduct a “return to work” interview and consider what adjustments they need to get back to work. This could include a phased return to their normal duties and/or hours. In this interview do ensure you ask them how they are!
A final consideration is that whilst it is important to de-stigmatise depression and mental illness, you need to ensure your employee’s confidentiality is not breached. Although some employees are happy to speak openly about their depression, some find it difficult to discuss with colleagues who cannot empathise. You could consider disability sensitivity training generally but in relation to your returning employee, be sensible and help them with going back to work after depression. Be mindful of any unnecessary stress which could trigger a relapse. Have an open door policy so that the employee feels able to approach you which in turn will help you manage them more effectively.
If you are an employer who is concerned about a disabled employee, our expert employment solicitors can assist you. Contact us today to arrange a free 30 minute initial consultation to discuss your needs.
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The Backhouse Solicitors Team