Work are treating me unfairly because of anxiety

[Content warning: sui (non-graphic, just mentioned), graphic description of anxiety symptoms]

Sound familiar? I’m putting together and sending someone I know a bunch of resources I found helpful in challenging my last employer – to help them fight their case with their company.

Like me, they’re sadly having to educate their employer about their rights under the equality law. Cue a massive sigh from me – when the fuck will employers take this seriously?? Anyway, I thought it’d be useful for others if I posted those resources I’m sending to that someone – and give a bit of advice at the same time. Beware of the colossal length of this post!

Without wanting to sound like one of those hooky adverts for workplace accidents… are you constantly in fear of going to work? Do you dread going back because of the way you’re being treated? Have you tried to speak up about your mental health concerns and ended up penalised/demoted/had responsibilities stripped away from you because you’ve owned up to feeling anxious/depressed or having other symptoms of mental health problems?

Then the chances are your employer doesn’t know shit about mental health, the equality act, and their responsibilities under it when you’ve expressed concern about your health, and they don’t support you.

Here’s some advice and links I’ve thrown together so you can defend yourself, avoid further penalisation/demotion etc – and make them realise they’re treating you unfairly because of your health – which is illegal.

[DISCLAIMER: If you have read my past blog posts, you’ll know from my experience that I still had to leave my last place, because they were still shit even after I challenged them.

But there is a chance that with larger companies and HR departments who do know their responsibilities, these tips may help – i.e. you may just be dealing with a few ignoramuses who manage you, who haven’t been trained properly, whereas getting HR involved may help.

Either way if you feel strong enough, it’s worth building your knowledge – you’ll feel more confident about not letting them get the better of you, and find out if they really are just ignorant – or if they’re negligent. So if you feel you can, tool up and fight, you Mental Health Warrior!]

1. Join a union

I’m a member of Unite. I’m not sure what the policy is if you’re not a unionised workplace, I had to go through a rep at my workplace. Whilst they didn’t have great knowledge about disability law, they certainly were supportive and sympathetic, and having them in meetings made HR take me more seriously. But Google ‘unions uk’, and find one suitable for your employment. Unison is another that springs to mind.

What this advice boils down to is, if you have grounds for constructive dismissal or unfair dismissal, you can’t afford lawyers’ fees unless you earn below £10k (thanks, Tories!) If you’re part of a union, you’ll get legal assistance if it comes to this. Membership is worth this alone.

2. See a doctor.
I can’t express enough how clear you have to be about what is bothering you and what you need. As soon as I did that, I got what I needed. But save yourself wasted trips beating around the bush like I did at first.

I only got signed off when I bought up needing it myself, which is ridiculous considering how ill I was & how many times I’d been in before specifically saying that my employment and the way I was being treated there was a contributing factor.

Be explicit and specific. So how exactly do you feel emotionally and physically? What are your symptoms? Are you sick, nauseous, can’t sleep, can’t concentrate? Can’t eat? Can’t leave the house? Do you feel suicidal? Or at least, do you wish you were dead? If work is causing it, how?

If you feel like going back to the office will trigger panic attacks or worse, tell the doctor in those exact words. Be specific about the fact that work has caused it. This all will help defend you if things escalate. And doctors won’t try and read your mind, especially if they’re under time constraints, so you need to be really specific. Say ‘I think I need to be signed off’ if it needs to be spelled out. Your mental health comes first, fuck the guilt around this condition.

3. Learn to advocate, and stop being pushed around

One the best pieces of advice I was given at my old job (was lucky enough to work with an awesome couple of disabled people also being treated crappily because the culture/structure there) was, ‘if you don’t know your rights and don’t learn to self-advocate, they’ll think they can get away with doing nothing.’ Basically ‘self-advocating’ means understanding disability and employment law and using it to kick an employer’s arse into action.

Time To Change has this helpful blog article which discusses how ‘capability [disciplinary] procedures aren’t supposed to be used in cases of long term illness’. There’s lots of other stuff on that site to help with workplace stigma and discrimination – try this article on Where Do I Stand Legally? It’ll let you know what you can do about being treated unfairly.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau has everything more generally employment related. Here’s some facts about being treated unfairly at work when you have stress and anxiety. Dig around the employment section for more advice relevant to your situation. I found ACAS really useful too. Because I was fighting for reasonable adjustments like second day working from home, I found their stuff about discrimination and flexible working helpful.

A lot of the above should cover you even if this is your first bout of depression and anxiety. However if you have ongoing (I’ve had it about 15 years +) and it’s severe or you have Schizophrenia, Borderline, Bipolar and other disorders, you are classified disabled. Read ACAS’ guide to disability discrimination to help you determine if what your employer is doing counts as that.

If you have any doubts over whether or not your mental health condition is protected by disability law – read this brilliant MIND website piece that confirmed it for me. It’ll help you feel empowered by that piece of your identity, and be confident you’re protected by disability law. (Interesting point in this article, even though I’m much better for taking my crazy pills – I am still considered disabled because of my poor health without them.)

If this is your first bout of depression and/or anxiety, you should still be supported not penalised, and should not be treated unfairly. Therefore even if you’re not sure your MH condition classifies you as disabled, you are still entitled to support – and bullying/harassment is still illegal.

I will do a separate post on the practicalities of requesting reasonable adjustments of your employer, but for now, I hope the above helps. If anyone wants to email me to ask about their specific situation, I’m more than willing to try and help where I can.

I’m self-taught, and not the final word on the law by any means (!) – but I’m willing to offer rough advice if it’s helpful. My email is Moody Crazy Lazy [at] Gmail [dot] com. Or pop a comment on this post and I’ll reply.

Power to the MH clan! 🙂

~ MCL x

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