Mental health problems can be just as debilitating as physical illnesses. But when it comes to requesting time off work for our mental health, many of us are reluctant to ask. In fact, many don’t know their rights in the workplace when it comes to taking mental health leave— or that they’re entitled to time off at all.
If you’re struggling and are wondering if you can take time off work for your mental health in the UK, read on to learn:
- What mental health disorders entitle you to take time off work
- How long can you take time off work for your mental health (including when classified as a disability)
- How to discuss mental health at work with your employer
Plus, at the end of this article, we provide resources for mental health and employment rights services in the UK, alongside our top advice for creating a happier workplace.
Can you take time off work for mental health?
There is no specific UK law regarding mental health leave (although later in this article, we explain how mental health leave can, in some instances, fall under the Equality Act 2010), so your right to mental health leave should be treated just like a physical illness would.
That means if you’re struggling with your mental health, there are several ways your employer should support you. They can make adjustments to your workload and schedule, for instance. If you need it, you can also take time off work for mental health (a.k.a. mental health leave).
If you do take time off work for your mental health, your employer is required to pay you Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
What mental health disorders entitle you to take time off work?
Any mental health illness should be treated with the same level of empathy and seriousness as a physical health problem. Here are some examples of common mental health disorders that may cause you to request mental health leave:
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Regardless of the specific reason, employers must treat your mental health illness like any other sickness.
How long can you take off work for your mental health?
The amount of time you take off work for your mental health will vary depending on your individual health needs, but all companies must provide SSP to their employees for up to 28 weeks, including for when employees can’t work due to their mental health.
SSP is available to all employees who:
- Are ill or unable to work for at least four days in a row (including non-working days).
- Earn at least £123 per week (before tax).
- Have informed their workplace about their sickness within an appropriate time, or within seven days if there’s no time frame given by the employer.
It’s important to note that if your sick leave lasts 7 days or more, you must provide your employer with a Statement of Fitness. This is a doctor’s note outlining the health issues you’re experiencing and your work capacity.
If your doctor recommends taking sick leave for longer than the 28 weeks of SSP, you may need to discuss with your employer taking further time off using your annual leave.
How long can you take off work for a mental health disability?
You are more entitled to sick leave if your illness is categorised as a disability. To fit this category, the disorder must:
- Have a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on your life
- Last (or be expected to last) at least 12 months
- Affect your ability to perform daily activities
In such instances, the Equality Act 2010 entitles you to longer periods of disability leave to manage your condition.
The act also offers employment security: employers who don’t provide ample sickness leave to disabled employees, discriminate against them, or even make them redundant are at risk of costly penalties and legal action. Therefore, if your mental illness meets the disability criteria, your employment and additional mental health leave is legally protected.
How to discuss mental health at work
Even though employees are entitled to mental health leave, many don’t feel comfortable talking to their bosses about their mental illness. Whether it’s due to a fear of stigma or feeling the matter is too personal, not being comfortable discussing mental health at work can be a barrier to requesting leave.
While it’s down to the employer to cultivate a workplace culture where mental health topics aren’t stigmatised, there are also things you can do individually to make discussing mental health at work easier:
- Open up to the person you feel most comfortable talking to about your mental health. If you have a good relationship with your Manager or Head of Department, talk to them. If not, a discussion with HR may feel more comfortable.
- Remember you don’t have to give them every piece of information surrounding your illness. If you don’t want to go into personal details, you don’t have to.
- Have an idea of what you’d like your company to support you with. Whether you’re asking for a lighter workload or time off, having a goal in mind will help assure you get the support you need.
- Remember that talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. Just as you wouldn’t judge someone for having a broken ankle, there is no shame in having a mental illness. In fact, you’d be surprised how supportive people can be when you open up to them, and doing so may even encourage others to do the same — you never know what someone may be going through.
Mental health and employment rights support in the UK
If you or anyone you know needs support with mental health, at work or in general, the below resources provide help and information.
- Immediate support for those going through a mental health crisis.
- UK charity providing free resources, advice and support for those with mental health problems, as well as their friends and family.
- Free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice.
Further information on mental health support and happiness at work
There are plenty of ways to support mental health and workplace wellness, whether you’re an employee or a CEO looking to create a healthy and positive workplace culture. Here are a few articles and guides to get you started:
- How to promote wellness in the workplace
- What is employee wellbeing and how can we improve it?
- How to build an inclusive workplace
- What is work happiness?