Psychological Health at Work

by Dr Christopher C Ridgeway

The legal position

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 clearly states that is unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled employee or potential employee less favourably than others. The employer can discriminate by failing to provide any reasonable adjustments for the disabled employee or applicant, leaving them at a serious disadvantage in relation to others.

In December 2005, the DDA was amended so that mental illness became a clinically-recognised condition under the act.

It is reasonable to assume that those experiencing work-related stress could, depending on the specific symptoms and particular work content, claim that they were protected by the DDA. Managers must therefore be aware that those suffering, or claiming to suffer, from psychological illness might consider a discrimination claim in relation to

  • Recruitment
  • Promotion
  • Salary and or benefits
  • Work-related psychological distress illness
  • Their return to work after psychological illness.

The compensation claims could be for very large amounts. Imagine, for example, a 30-year-old so traumatised by verbal and physical abuse at work that they were too anxious to enter any work environment again. Assuming their professional advisors agreed, such a person could, as only one part of a claim, seek damages for the loss of, say, 35 years’ earnings. This, assuming a current salary of £20,000 plus benefits a year, would be around £700,000!

See more information on the DDA.

Example

P suffered from severe depression. During his absence his employer kept in close contact with him, refused to accept his resignation on one occasion and extended his sickness benefit. When the decision to dismiss was taken, the employer failed to consult P, relying only on a medical report that had been misconstrued. P complained that he’d been unfairly dismissed.

The court agreed. Even though the procedure had been perfectly adequate at earlier stages, when the decision to dismiss was taken, the employer failed to consult P personally.

WM Computer Services Ltd v Passmore [1986]