Your guide to time off work for mental health

Mental health challenges can feel debilitating and they don’t stop when you enter your workplace (or switch on your laptop) but it can feel like you need to push those aside when you go to work so that you can be productive and earn enough money to live your life.

We know it’s not that simple. Mental health challenges can manifest themselves in many ways including missing deadlines, lacking enthusiasm and having more emotional responses to problems that arise – all of which can lead to problems for you, your team and your employer.

Sometimes, it may seem like the best solution is to take time off to deal with your mental health – but the stigma around mental health as a whole has probably made it hard for you to find the information you need about time off work for mental health.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Can I take time off work for mental health?

Yes. As with physical health problems, you are legally entitled to time off when struggling with mental health. Similarly to physical health problems, you will need to get a doctor’s note if you are off for longer than 1 week due to mental health.

When should I take time off work for mental health?

You should take time off work for mental health if you are experiencing any symptoms of a mental health condition (e.g. anxiety, depression, stress) that will negatively affect your performance at work.

Alternatively, you should take time off work for mental health if you believe that attending work will have a significant and detrimental impact on your long-term mental health.

In some cases, you may only need a single day to allow yourself to rest and recover, or in more severe cases you may need an extended period of leave.

How to talk to employers about mental health

There is no legal requirement for you to disclose any mental health conditions with your employer, however, you may find that sharing your circumstances with your employer (or HR department) enables them to support you better and make adjustments to the work environment.

The stigma around mental health keeps many employees from opening up to employers for fear of dismissal, discrimination, or fewer career opportunities. However, mental health conditions can be classed as a disability and are therefore protected from workplace discrimination by The Equality Act (2010).

How to call in sick with mental health

Due to the stigma that still exists around mental health, many people try to ignore symptoms of poor mental health and carry on working anyway. But would you go to work if you were throwing up? Hopefully not.

The same goes for your mental health – while keeping busy can be helpful at times, your mental health needs rest so it can heal just like your physical health does.

If you need a single day or two to rest, you can simply send a message or make a call as you would with a physical sick day. If you don’t want to disclose the specific issue you’re struggling with, you can send a broad message to your employer to inform them that you’ll be off:

Hi [Employer],

I need to take today off for my mental health. Hopefully, then I can be back at 100% for tomorrow!

Many Thanks,

[Your Name]

If you need more than a week off, you will need a written note from a doctor detailing what condition you are taking time off for and how long it will be until you return. This will need to be sent to your HR department but it would also be advisable to inform your line manager and team members about the duration of your leave.

Can I be fired for taking time off for mental health?

Providing you follow the proper protocols for sick leave within your organisation, provide proof of illness for extended leave, and work with your employer to remain productive within any accommodations made for your mental health, you cannot be fairly dismissed from your role.

Employers may fire you if:

  • You have violated the terms of your employment contract by not following the agreed sick leave procedures
  • You have not provided proof of your mental illness for extended periods of leave
  • You have not successfully worked with any considerations your employer has taken to support your mental health (such as flexible working hours, or remote working)

If you have followed all the requirements and your employer still fires you, you may be able to claim it was an unfair dismissal under the Equality Act (2010), leaving your employer facing hefty fines and lengthy legal procedures.

In reality, most employers are understanding and accommodating to your mental health needs as long as you are open and honest about what you need. Most issues tend to arise when performance and productivity decrease for no clear reason and with no identifiable solution. Avoid this situation by discussing your mental health and any additional requirements with your employer, HR department, or Mental Health First Aider.

Mental health is a vast and complex subject, both employers and employees can benefit from mental health training that will enable them to spot the signs of common mental health conditions, look after mental health, and support those with mental health challenges.

All proceeds from our workplace mental health courses go towards our #Headucation campaign designed to improve mental health support for children. Help yourself, your business, and future generations by registering for our online or tutor-led mental health courses.

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