Can I Be Sacked for Being Off Sick With Depression?

Mental health conditions affect approximately 1 in 5 people, so the likelihood is that most businesses will have employees suffering from conditions like depression, even if they aren’t aware of it.

As the narrative around mental health has opened up, gone are the days when the only illnesses that justified time off were those that could be seen. But that doesn’t necessarily alleviate some of the worries that taking time off to cope with depression could lead to termination at work, which will only add to the stress you’re trying to heal from.

You can breathe a sigh of relief because the good news is that in most cases in the UK people suffering from depression are protected should they need to take some time off to recover. That doesn’t mean they can’t be dismissed at all, but there are quite a few hoops that the employer would need to jump through to fairly dismiss someone.

Depression and the workplace

Just like an accident can happen to anyone at any time, depression can strike someone one day without any explanation. It can also fluctuate and change over time, at one point someone could be feeling right as rain and on top of the world, and the next day they’re feeling low, unhappy, and unmotivated. Quite often the fear of being laid off with a mental health condition like depression actually exacerbates the symptoms and makes it hard to heal.

Depression can be a lonely and isolating condition to live with, but there is some reassurance that you’re not alone. In fact, 9.8% of all sick days taken in the UK were due to poor mental health. So that means roughly 14.63 million days off were taken as a result of depression, anxiety, stress, or another mental health condition.

There can be a lot of different triggers for depression, and sometimes it creeps up on a person unawares. It doesn’t matter whether it has been brought on because of stress and anxiety at work, the death of a loved one, or substantial life changes, depression is a condition that should be taken seriously and those suffering from it should be treated with respect.

A lot of people muddle through work even whilst they’re struggling with depression, largely out of fear that they will be fired or bullied for feeling that way. This is just as, if not more, unhealthy for both the employee AND the employer. You’re probably thinking that doesn’t make any sense if they’re still showing up for the job, but actually, presenteeism costs a business 10 times more than absenteeism!

It’s important not to let yourself struggle with depression in silence and be open and honest with your employer about what you’re going through. Good employers will take the time to listen and understand, rather than flying off the handle and terminating your contract. If you’re not sure that’s your boss, then perhaps it’s time to think about a move to somewhere with a more supportive working environment.

Depression as a disability

Did you know that depression can actually be classified as a disability if it has a long-term effect on day-to-day activity? That is why it is so difficult to fire someone for having depression, as it will be seen as unfair dismissal and discrimination, and employers may face hefty claims and payouts.  

It is the employer’s responsibility to protect your health, safety, and welfare in the workplace, and that extends to protecting your mental health too. A good employer will recognise when someone needs extra support, and you shouldn’t be shy about opening up about what you’re going through. Even if you’re afraid of how they will react or you’re worried about them just dismissing you (fun fact: they can’t!), it’s important to let them know how you’re feeling so they know how to best support you. As depression isn’t always visible to those around us, particularly if you do a good job of hiding it, it can be really hard for employers and colleagues to know what you need.

Depression and employment law

An employer has a duty of care towards employees, so firing them on the sport for struggling with conditions like depression doesn’t quite fit their responsibility. Moreover, if depression is considered a disability, it is then protected by UK employment law, and being fired for it can lead to discrimination charges. Alternatively, an employer can’t stop paying you or sack you for taking time off to deal with your illness.

Before you join a company, make sure you take the time to read through your contract and the company’s sickness and returning to work policy, as they will differ from place to place. That fact of the matter remains, however, that you can’t simply be sack for being off sick with depression!

There are instances in which employers can terminate an employee’s contract, however there are a number of hoops they must jump through to avoid being hauled up on discrimination or unfair dismissal charges. The issue must also have had to be ongoing for a substantial period of time. If depression is preventing someone from performing their job properly over an extended period of time or their illness means they lack effort or motivation to complete tasks, then there may be grounds for dismissal. However, as we said, the problem needs to have been apparent for a lengthy amount of time so they can’t simply sack you for feeling a bit off your game for a few weeks. Consider the amount of time it would take someone to recover from a serious accident or operation, that’s usually the benchmark in which an employer has to wait before they can dismiss someone with depression.

So, there you have it! It’s very tough for employers to sack someone for being off sick with depression, so if worry about your job security has been getting in the way of mending your mental health then you don’t need to add to the stress. If the condition lasts for a long amount of time, then there are grounds for dismissal to be considered but don’t dwell on that and spend the time recovering and healing, rather than panicking about your career.

If you’re looking for a way to keep on top of your mental health, then we have just the app for you.  The Morale app is designed to boost your mindset and those around you with a few little daily affirmations… sounds easy doesn’t it! You and your network can swap positive affirmations every day to make sure you’re all staying in tip-top condition. Your mindset and self esteem have a huge impact on your mental health, so making sure it’s in fine working order is one of the best ways to protect your mental wellbeing.

Just download the app from Google Play or Apple’s App Store and start boosting! Good mental health can really be that simple…

Whilst you’re at it, don’t forget to head over and check us out on social media. We promise nothing but good vibes only…

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