Should an employer know about our mental health?

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Diseases and mental disorders are gradually becoming normalized and no longer a taboo subject in public debate. This is important, if only because, according to the World Health Organization, depression is the fourth most common disease in the world. However, it is different to share information about struggling with the disease with a friend, and different with an employer. Many people are afraid of the consequences of such a confession. Is it rightly so?

Mental illness and the labor market

Mentally ill people face exclusion from the labor market for several reasons. There is still a stigma and stereotyping of mental illness, which is linked to the fact that employers fear that a person struggling with the disease will be unproductive and subject to more frequent accidents at work. 

At the same time, doctors stress that getting a job helps recovery, while unemployment exacerbates symptoms, for example, in people suffering from depression. Work for a sick person is not only economic independence, it is also a source of a sense of stability, self-realization and belonging to a group.

Should you tell your employer about your mental illness?

The state of health, both mental and physical, is a private matter, so the employee is not obliged to tell the employer. Thus, the recruiter does not have the right to ask about the candidate’s health status or past illnesses.

The situation becomes more complicated if the employee’s illness reflects on the quality of work or employee relations. An employee whose behavior raises concerns with the employer may be referred for a general medical examination. However, it should be noted that the employer cannot send the employee for a psychiatric examination. If a subordinate faces a relapse, he should signal this to the employer. The conversation may result in greater understanding and bring beneficial – for both parties – solutions to the situation. The fact that being late for work, not performing all duties or getting involved in conflicts with other employees is a result of the illness can completely change the optics of the supervisor. In addition, it is not impossible that the employer has been in contact with a person who is struggling with mental problems, or is facing this himself.

Rights of the employee 

What if the employer has not reacted as we would like? It is worth noting that mocking an illness, ridiculing or negatively affecting an employee’s self-esteem is a form of bullying and is punishable. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which an employer or co-workers make fun of coronary diseases in an indiscriminate manner, and this is exactly how mental illnesses should be treated – on the same level as physical illnesses.

In addition, an employer cannot fire an employee for illness, it would then violate the Labor Code, which clearly prohibits dismissal on the basis of disability.

On the other hand, if a doctor rules that an employee’s health condition prevents him from performing his job, the employer is obliged not to allow the employee to return to his current position. In the event that the employer determines that the employee poses a threat to his own life or that of others (of course, he must have real reasons for this), he may remove him from his position, relying on Article 207 § 2 of the Labor Code: the employer is obliged to protect the health and life of employees. 

A sick leave issued by a psychiatrist has the same legal force as a leave issued from another doctor. This means that the employer does not have the right to dismiss an employee while he is on sick leave.

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