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Disability from work for depression

Published 23 April 2018

Managing a disability caused by depression is a challenge that employers should be ready and prepared for.

According to research one in three of the UK workforce may have a health and wellbeing issue, with depression among the most common (1). 

It can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on the sufferer, and in some cases depression may be considered a disability in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 (2).

A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on a person’s ability to do normal daily activities.

It can be difficult to establish if an employee suffering from depression is actually protected by the Equality Act. Therefore, employers should seek specialist advice if it is believed that a worker may be covered. 

Occupational health assessments can provide guidance on the likelihood of the illnesses being considered a disability, and recommend any reasonable adjustments that can be made to assist the employee.

Employers have a legal duty to ensure that an employee with any disability does not suffer discrimination, victimisation or harassment.

Where depression is considered a disability an employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid the employee being put at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in the workplace. This can include adjusting working hours or providing extra support with the workload to help the individual to do the job.

Every organisation, regardless of its size, is likely to be affected by mental health at some stage, so it is something that employers cannot ignore.

There does, however, still seem to be a stigma attached to depression when it comes to the workplace.

A study by the Mental Health Foundation quizzed two thousand workers and it found that 38 per cent said they would not make known a mental health problem for fear it would damage their career (3).

The research also revealed that 45 per cent would not reveal a mental health problem was the real reason for time off work, and would instead blame it on stomach or back ache.

According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive 12.5 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17 (4).

The figure may be due in large part to an increase in awareness and workers now feeling comfortable to talk about depression and other mental health issues.

All employers have a duty of care to their employees (5). There is an onus on every organisation to be prepared to manage employees suffering with depression, especially if it is work related.

There are some practical steps employers can take to promote mental health well-being before problems escalate:

  • Establishing a helpline or point of contact for mental health issues.
  • Develop a culture of support and openness in which workers feel comfortable and free to discuss concerns.
  • Provide mental health awareness training
  • Sign up to initiatives such as Time to Change (6), which can provide support in drawing up a mental health action plan.
  • Use positive language

Mental health is now more understood than ever before and the stigma around it is certainly not as strong as it once was, however, it still remains a complex illness to deal with.

It is understandable that there may be a feeling of uncertainty about how to cope with an employee who presents with depression, or any mental illness.

The key is to treat the individual in a fair and reasonable manner and seek expert advice where necessary, all of which can provide reassurance and alleviate any fears.


1. PricewaterhouseCoopers. One in three UK employees are working with anxiety, depression or stress, according to new PwC research [Internet]. PwC. [cited 2018 Apr 14]. Available from:

2. Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2018 Apr 14]. Available from:

3. 38% of Brits fear revealing a mental health problem at work would jeopardise their career [Internet]. Mental Health Foundation. 2017 [cited 2018 Apr 14]. Available from:

4. Statistics - Work related stress, depression or anxiety [Internet]. [cited 2018 Apr 15]. Available from:

5. The Cube 123 Albion Street. An employer’s duty of care can manifest itself in many different ways. Find out more | Acas workplace snippets [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2018 Apr 15]. Available from:

6. Employer Pledge [Internet]. Time To Change. 2014 [cited 2018 Apr 15]. Available from:


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