Mental health at work

Should you tell your employer that you’ve got a mental health issue like depression or anxiety? Staying focused on your work can be extremely difficult when you’re silently suffering, but there are employment laws protecting you. The Mix explains what to do if you’re struggling with your mental health at work and if you can be fired for mental health issues.

A young woman is smiling. She is discussing mental health at work. This is a wide-angle image.

Mental health in the workplace: Do I tell them?

Before you apply:

Check if the company you’re interested in has a ‘two ticks’ symbol; this shows they’re committed to employing people with disabilities and mental health problems. But to ease your mind slightly, terminating an employee with mental health issues goes against the UK employment law regardless of the company. 

At application stage:

It’s illegal for employers to ask about a potential employee’s mental health until they’ve offered you the job, so there’s no need to worry about it right now. Of course, you can choose to disclose your condition if you want, and legally a company can’t let it influence their decision. But it’s worth noting that it’d be difficult to prove if it did. 

Once you’ve started working:

Once again, it’s your choice to disclose any mental health diagnoses. Although, it would be much easier to deal with any long term issues relating to the condition if your employer’s already aware of your history. But rest assured the answer to ‘can I be fired for mental health issues in the UK?’ is always no.

Legally, people with mental health issues have the same protection as those with physical illnesses. This means that your company’s sickness policy will also apply to you. In fact, it’s part of the employer’s duty of care to look after your welfare. The only difference is that you’re more likely to need medical evidence. For example a fit note from a GP confirming that you have mental health problems. For more advice, you can read our article on how to get a sick note from the doctor here.

If telling your line manager seems daunting right now, you can always write to the human resources (HR) department’s email address (if they have one). Or the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). Plus, Acas can also offer advice and support.

Can I be sacked for being off sick with depression or other mental health conditions?

The first thing that employees suffering from depression probably google is ‘Can I be sacked for being off sick with depression?’. Well we have some good news. 

No, you can’t be given the can for being off sick with depression, or any other mental health issue. Terminating an employee with mental health issues is illegal in the UK unless there is a valid reason. And this has to be a reason that you would fire any other employee for. Otherwise, your employer can’t stop paying you, or fire you, if you’ve had to take time off for your illness. If they do then you can file certain discrimination claims against them. Just make sure you read your company’s sickness and returning to work policy because it’ll be different for every company.

Our article about sick pay should explain more. And, if you feel you’ve been unfairly dismissed, there are options to fight your case, such as an employment tribunal. To find out more about unfair dismissal, read this article.

Are employers put off by people with mental health issues?

In an ideal world, the answer to this would be ‘no’. But, as you’re probably aware, attitudes towards mental health can still be pretty misguided.

Don’t be disheartened, though. Good employers will realise that having an employee with mental health problems such as depression can be an asset. This is because they often have a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses and can help and support other members of staff with similar problems.

Should I even try to work if I’m mentally ill?

Only you know what you’re capable of, but it might be useful to discuss this further with your GP or counsellor, if you have one. Most people actually find the structure of a working day and the fact that they’re contributing something can be helpful. So that might be something worth considering.

We’d also recommend being honest with your employer about what you’re going through. That way they could take steps to make working life easier for you. Small tweaks, like staggering deadlines, flexitime, and letting you work the odd day from home can make a huge difference. Plus it’ll help stop you from googling ‘can I be fired for mental health issues in the UK?’ at 2am. 

Further support:

  • Struggling with your mental health at uni? Check out this article on mental health at university.
  • The Mix has loads of work and study resources here, which can help you find your way through the ups and downs of working life.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Chat about your experience with mental health issues and working life on our discussion boards.

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Bourne

Updated on 27-Feb-2022