HR surgery: Your career challenges and questions answered
“I have lived with bipolar disorder my whole adult life, and thanks to a mixture of medication and self-care, I can usually manage my mental health so that I am a productive and pleasant member of the workforce.
However, earlier this year, without warning, I crashed and went from doing well to being monosyllabic and unable to get out of bed. Coupled with this I have had a couple of other unrelated medical issues that also required painkillers – these combined with my medication had a really severe impact on my mental health and I had to take a lot of time off work.
During this period, my employer changed the absence management process, and I was subsequently invited to a hearing and issued with an improvement notice. I feel harassed, isolated and as if I am being victimised, none of which is helping my mental health.
I have been to see the occupational health team but they haven’t yet reported back to my employer. I am really worried I will lose my job. Can you please tell me what my rights are in this situation?”
The expert view #1: Your rights depend on whether bipolar is a disability
Recent years have finally seen mental health beginning to get the focus it requires. Unfortunately there is still a lack of understanding and there is much work still to be done.
Your rights in the situation you outline will largely depend upon whether your bipolar disorder amounts to a dis- ability. If it has a substantially adverse and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities it may well do.
Employers have clear obligations and responsibilities to support disabled employees. In particular, they must consider making “reasonable adjustments” to help you carry out your job without being at a disadvantage. Failure to do so could amount to discrimination. These adjustments might include:
* Adapting your working arrangements to make it easier for you to continue working when experiencing mental ill health;
* Modifying the organisation’s “absence triggers” so that periods of absence due to your condition don’t unfairly disadvantage you; or Informing and educating your manager and team about working with bipolar colleagues.
However, whether your bipolar dis- order is a disability or not, an employer’s focus should be on supporting you back to better mental health. If you believe you have been treated unfairly, you may want to consider raising a formal grievance that details why you believe this. Your employer should then invite you to a meeting to discuss the grievance and try to find a way to resolve the matter with you.
Tom Neil, adviser, ACAS
Expert view #2: Your employer has a duty of care towards you
Workplaces that understand mental health and train line managers in the skills to effectively manage it have higher employee engagement and productivity. This fosters a more diverse environment that can embrace and work with mental health conditions in the same way they would with a physical health condition.
The core skill for all firms centres around communication: open, honest and with the right intentions around a duty of care towards employees, whilst managing the needs of the business. Conversations about health and wellbeing should always be separate to ensure the most appropriate steps are taken to properly fulfill all objectives.
In your case, it is not clear that this demarcation has been followed and our first recommendation would be to approach your employer to resolve this. It is a personal decision, but if you have not already disclosed to your employer that you have bi-polar, then we would recommend you do this. Bi-polar is a condition covered by the Equality Act 2010, which means that your employer should consider reasonable adjustments that would enable you to stay in productive work. As part of this, you should discuss how you both agree to handle a situation if you need to take time off.
These conversations should continue to be held once adjustments are agreed, ideally with your line manager, who needs to feel comfortable talking about mental health. If your manager still feels there is a performance gap, then this may become a separate conversation, but it would be in the interest of both parties that this stage is not reached.
Alison Pay, Operations Director, Mental Health at Work
This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD. To make sure you never miss an issue, subscribe today for as little as £50 for the year.