Work and mental illness - At work
This section gives information on:
Should I tell an employer about my mental illness?
It is usually up to you to decide whether to tell an employer about your mental illness.
Before you are offered a job
The Equality Act says that an employer can not ask you questions about your health before they offer you a job. This is to stop discrimination because of your health.
An employer can ask you questions if they need to find out:
- if you need any reasonable adjustments for the interview,
- if you will be able to do something that is part of the job,
- personal information to track who is applying for jobs with them- This helps with their equality and diversity policies,
- if you could be part of an employer’s scheme that favours disabled people, or
- if you have a disability that you need for the job(for example, an employer with a project for deaf people may want a deaf person to run it).
You don’t have to answer health questions before you are offered a job. Unless you have a specific type of job where you have to tell the employer.
You could try to find out why the employer is asking these questions. This may help you decide whether or not to answer them.
Once an employer offers you a job, they can ask you health-related questions.
You may be given a ‘conditional’ offer of a job. This means that getting the job depends on certain things. An employer might say your job offer is conditional on satisfactory references and health or disability checks.
An employer can then ask questions about your health. If at this stage your job offer is withdrawn you may be able to make a claim of disability discrimination – see ‘Unfair treatment’ below.
It may be helpful to tell an employer about your mental illness so they can make ‘reasonable adjustments’. This might help you during the interview and recruitment process or if you get the job.
Your employment does not have to make reasonable adjustments unless they know, or should know, about your illness.
Please see here for more information on reasonable adjustments.
Some employers guarantee an interview to disabled people who meet the minimum criteria for the role.
The employer might be part of the Disability Confident scheme. These employers encourage applications from disabled people.
If the employer of job advertisement has this symbol it means they are part of the Disability Confident scheme:
Telling your employer
If you tell your employer think about the strengths and skills you use to cope with and overcome your mental illness.
Your experience of mental illness may have given you useful skills, such as:
- problem solving,
- the ability to work with and relate to different sorts of people,
- setting goals, and
If you choose to tell an employer during the application process, you can tell them:
- on the application form,
- on a covering letter, or
- at the interview stage.
Gaps in your CV
When you fill in an application form or write a CV you have to include an employment history.
You might have gaps in your employment history. These gaps are periods where you couldn’t work because of your mental illness. The following are things to think about when telling an employer:
- It is best to be honest. If you are not and the employer finds out later it could lead to problems for you. Honesty is a good quality that employers value.
- You don’t have to go into everything in detail.
- You might have been employed for a long time and held different positions. You can put your more recent positions only on your CV. This might cover up any gaps from years ago.
- You can sometimes tell the employer the years but not the months that you were employed. This might mean you don’t have to explain a gap.
- Employers will generally be used to job applicants having gaps in their employment. It is how you deal with it that could make the difference.
- Think about the positives from your break in employment. Instead of just saying you were too ill to work you could say things like:
- “To get myself well enough to start working again I ………..”
- “I used the following skills and strengths to overcome the challenges I faced ……….”
- “I learn the following things…….”
If you are offered an interview you will probably be asked about gaps in your employment. You can plan what you are going to say. It is your chance to impress the employer with:
- how you dealt with the situation,
- what skills you used, and
- what you learnt.
Jobs where you have to tell the employer
In some jobs you have to tell the employer about your health. This is because of regulations that apply to these professions. These jobs include:
- nurses and doctors, and
- the armed forces.
If you don’t tell the employer you could face disciplinary action later on.
Telling an employer that you have a mental illness could lead to unfair treatment when applying for a job.
You may be protected by discrimination law. But it may be hard to prove that the employer treated you badly because of your mental illness. Rather than a fair reason such as lack of experience.
If you think you have been discriminated against because of your mental illness you can get advice from The Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS). Their details are here.
What are ‘reasonable adjustments’?
Under The Equality Act 2010 employers have to take certain actions to help people with disabilities. This includes many people with a mental illness.
Under The Act employers have a duty to change their procedures and practices. They have to do this to remove the barriers people face because of a disability.
Disabled people can ask employers to change their procedures and practices. As long as it is reasonable. The Act calls this the duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments.’
The Equality Act defines a disability as being:
- a physical or mental impairment,
- long term – has lasted at least 12 months or likely to last 12 months, and
- has a substantial adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
You can ask for reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process. So you might ask for a reasonable adjustment to make it easier for you to go to an interview. You can also ask them if you get the job.
Reasonable adjustments for employees with a mental health condition include:
- offering flexible working patterns, including changes to start and finish times and adaptable break times,
- changing your working environment, for example providing a quiet place to work,
- working with you to create an action plan to help you manage your condition, and
- allowing you leave to attend appointments connected with your mental health.
You can find more information ‘Discrimination and mental health’ here.
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