Mental health at work: the lowdown on legislation

Tuesday, July 19 2022
Written By: Katie Monk
  There are some key pieces of mental health legislation that employers need to be aware of to ensure that they operate within the law and remain on top of best practices and standards. 👌 According to GOV.UK, "Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, with an annual cost […]


There are some key pieces of mental health legislation that employers need to be aware of to ensure that they operate within the law and remain on top of best practices and standards. 👌

According to GOV.UK, "Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, with an annual cost to the UK economy of between £74 billion and £99 billion."

This quote highlights not only the financial benefit of investing in workplace wellbeing for employers, but the economic (and therefore societal) impact that a lack of mental health provision in the workplace has on all of us. Not to mention the human cost: research from mental health charity, Mind, shows that work is THE biggest cause of stress in people’s lives – more so than even money.

And so, we hope you’ll agree that enshrining in law some protections around worker mental health is of the upmost importance – for both the employer and the employee.

In this article, we aim to give you the lowdown on current legislation and some relevant standards to ensure that mental health at work is supported as it should be.


The Equality Act (2010)

This act consolidated and replaced all the other acts and regulations that previously formed the anti-discrimination laws in the UK. Today, the Equality Act (which covers England, Wales, Scotland. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 covers Northern Ireland) protects against discrimination based on sex, race and disability.

People with a mental illness may not necessarily think of themselves as disabled, but if their condition affects their ability to do their job, then they might be considered disabled in the eyes of (UK) law. Examples of such conditions include anxiety disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression.

The Equality Act is further supported by the Mental Health (Discrimination) Act (2013), which aims to "reduce the stigma and negative perceptions associated with mental illness".


The implications of the Equality Act (2010) on employers

mental health legislation According to the Equality Act, employees with a disability have a legal right to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to their workplace, way of working and/or role so they're able to carry out their work without facing any barriers.

These reasonable adjustments ensure these employees can carry out their duties without being placed at a substantial disadvantage as a result of any physical feature of the premises or by any other provision, criteria or practice of the employer.

Examples of reasonable adjustments for those living with mental illness might include flexible hours, quieter workspaces, more support, frequent assistance, extra space, and special equipment. For example, an employee may find it difficult to get to work at a certain time due to sleep difficulties caused by medication or have specific transport requirements.

Employers also need to make reasonable changes to the way they recruit so anyone with a mental illness isn't prevented from working or applying for a job. The Government Equalities Office supplies a guide on this.


The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (both applicable in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) set out the reasonable duties that employers have towards ensuring the health – including mental health – and welfare of their employees.

This legislation requires employers to carry out risk assessments at work and take action to control any identified risks based on their findings.

Concerning mental health specifically, stress, and any work activities that may cause stress-related ill-health, should be specifically addressed as risks identified in a risk assessment, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

Here is an example of a risk assessment that addresses employee mental health from the Health and Safety Executive:

mental health legislation

When it comes to completing your risk assessment, companies of five or more employees must keep an up-to-date record of:

  • The hazards identified;
  • Who might be harmed;
  • What you’re doing to control the risks.

You are required to review your risk assessment when any significant changes occur in the workplace i.e. when new staff join, when new equipment, environments or processes are introduced, if your workers spot a problem, or if any accidents or near misses occur.

Employers of all sizes have a duty of care towards employees that includes avoiding psychological injury as much as physical injury. And if certain roles or duties are causing undue stress, employers must take adequate measures to reduce it, and provide provisions and a work environment that is, as far as is reasonably practical, safe from psychosocial harm.


The British Standards Institution: ISO45003

ISO 45003 is the first global standard for managing mental health in the workplace – published recently, in 2021.

Best viewed as an extension of ISO 45001 (the previous iteration of the ISO, which dealt specifically with Occupational Health and Safety), this new guidance follows the same structure, but focuses on managing and minimising the psychological risks an employee may be exposed to.

It addresses the many areas that could impact on employee wellbeing – including ineffective communication, excessive pressure, poor leadership and organisational culture – and provides employers with a "Primary, Secondary, Tertiary" structure for best managing psychological risk.

Broken down, this refers to:

  • Primary (Wellbeing promotion)
    Goal: To keep people well and help them flourish i.e. work to create a positive team culture and offer mental health awareness training.
  • Secondary (Risk Management)
    Goal: Identify and control the risk factors to avoid escalation i.e. conduct a risk assessment for stressors in the workplace.
  • Tertiary (Illness management)
    Goal: Care for individuals who have a mental illness i.e. introduce optional counselling sessions and make reasonable adjustments where necessary.

ISO45003 offers practical guidance, a structure, and resources on how to recognise and manage psychosocial risks in the workplace, and results in (a paid for) certification from The British Standards Institution.


mental health legislation

Thriving at Work core standards 

In 2017, the government published a Thriving at Work Report, which outlined six mental health core standards for businesses to implement relating to mental health and wellbeing at work.

1.  Produce, implement, and communicate a mental health at work plan;

2.  Develop mental health awareness among colleagues;

3.  Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when colleagues are struggling;

4.  Provide colleagues with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development;

5.  Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;

6.  Routinely monitor colleagues’ mental health and wellbeing.

The report, conducted by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer (CEO of Mind), offers recommendations to employers (as related to these core standards above) and offers a best-practice framework for businesses developing their wellbeing strategies.

You can read more about the core standards on Mind's website, here.



This legislation is important now more than ever. With two years of pandemic lockdowns and economic uncertainty, mental health is a critical topic.

Considering how your company responds to mental health is absolutely essential. If you'd like to learn more about how your company or business can implement these regulations, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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