Are you Unable to Work due to Depression? (UK & USA laws:)

In this blog, we will talk about the ways in which we can help people in our work settings if they suffer from depression, and will also cover UK and US laws that protect employees from unfair dismissal.

Are you Unable to Work due to Depression? (UK & USA laws: All you need to know)

If your answer is yes to the above question, you should read this blog till the end so that you can have a better idea of the laws in the USA as well as the UK that regulate mental health and wellness in the workplace. 

The world is evolving in many spheres. We are opening up to newer policies, new work-life balances, new identities, the concept of feminism, essentially equality, banishment of gender roles and so much more. 

Let us explore UK and USA laws that intend to address mental health-related concerns in the further sections.

Mental Health Awareness Is Growing

We are slowly opening up to mental health as well. While there is no official definition of the mental health crisis in countries’ constitutions, there definitely is an omnipresent understanding of what it entails. 

It is our mental and emotional capacity to deal with everyday hurdles and pressures. And these will also involve any kind of mental illnesses or conditions that you might have.

It is mutually understood that things happen and they affect us in ways that are much deeper than physical implications. Employers all around the world who are opening up to the changing world, understand that their employees are human beings and not machines who will keep working day in and day out. 

In fact, even if a person like this exists in their office, they might take action to make sure that this employee seeks help so that they don’t overwork themselves and burn out.

Stress in an employee is a concern for the entire organization

They also understand that issues like stress are highly tricky to navigate through because when an employee is stressed because of a personal reason, that issue does not stay personal anymore. It becomes a social issue, when that stress contributes to an outburst in front of a newbie colleague, for example. 

This new employee will experience the stress mounting upon him/her and will it will find a way to pass on to another employee. So this way the whole team is at risk of being stressed even if one person is experiencing it. 

And this will affect the efficient system of the team and hence the overall performance. This is why it is the responsibility of the team leaders or the employers to make sure that nothing like this ensues. 

They might perhaps, grant that first employee a day’s leave, for example.

Mental health is like cycling on an unstable rope. It can fluctuate due to any reason, be it personal or professional. And that can have serious consequences if not attended to properly.

This brings us to our discussion on serious mental illnesses like depression and how that is going to become a hurdle for best work output. What can employers do in such a situation?

UK Laws 

Employment Rights Act (1996)

Under the Employment Rights Act of 1996, employees who have worked for two years or longer are protected against being fired unfairly.

If an employer dismisses a specific employee, they must demonstrate that it was a fair dismissal, otherwise, they risk facing employment tribunal claims. Employees can file a claim for unjust dismissal, which carries a monetary penalty, and the tribunal can force employers to restore them back in their position.

The law recognizes five legitimate causes for dismissal. Although employers should recognize that their employees’ mental health is as important as their physical health, and hence they should be treated equally.

Legitimate causes of Dismissal

The 5 legitimate causes for dismissal are:

  • Conduct: where their actions are deemed inappropriate
  • Capability: where they lack the necessary abilities or aptitude to carry out their duties
  • Statutory ban: when it would be illegal to continue to employ them in their current position
  • Redundancy: When an employee’s job is no longer needed by the organization, he or she may be fired for financial reasons.
  • Some other substantial reasons: Situations where the dismissal does not fit under one of the categories above, such as the reputational risk of keeping the individual on the job.

Mental health issue and Dismissal

Dismissal due to mental health crises like that of depression would fall under the heading of capability. This can include both medical and performance-related capabilities. 

To be fair, the process for dismissal would require a meticulous investigation into the level of interference this mental illness has on the employee’s ability to work. This may range from their ability to meet the team goals, conduct important meetings and presentations, or perhaps even the number of absence leaves they take.

Dismissal: Last Resort

Dismissal is and should ALWAYS be the last resort that any employer adopts. First, there must be careful and healthy communication between the employer and that particular employee. 

This conversation needs to entail any kind of support the latter may need. This includes time off work, flexible timings, any specific assistance in the professional settings.

After this, the employer should establish the discussed ideas for support and implement them effectively immediately.

As we mentioned earlier, mental illness should be treated equally to any physical illness. So if we are talking about sick leave, the employer must be willing to be flexible with the number of leaves an employee with depression takes since it is different for everyone. 

Long-term effects of mental health: Disability

Since everyone is different, for some it may last a month or two, and for someone else, it may last till 6 months or even up to a year. Any mental health issue that has long-term (12 months) or significant impact is deemed a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

This now poses a difficult situation. If an employee is unable to work and no additional help or reasonable accommodations can be made, the employer has the right to fire them. This should only be used as a last resort, and companies must show that they have exhausted all other alternatives to keep their employees in their jobs.

An employee can only be fired for mental health reasons after all reasonable steps have been taken and performance still falls short of the required standard.

US Laws

Americans With Disabilities (ADA)

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1992 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities by private businesses, municipal governments, employment agencies, and labor unions.

The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. When job applicants or employees have a mental health condition that meets this criterion, they have workplace rights under the ADA. 

ADA Amendments Act (2008)

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) recently broadened the definition of disability to provide legal protections against employment discrimination for more individuals with disabilities, including people with psychiatric disabilities.

The disabilities included in this act are Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, and Schizophrenia. Under the ADA, candidates, and employees with major mental illnesses have two main rights. They have a right to privacy, for starters. 

They may or may not want to disclose their employer about their impairment, except when requesting accommodations. Second, they are entitled to job accommodations unless doing so would place an unreasonable burden on the employer.

The ADA, along with the 2008 amendment, states that persons qualify for disability if they:

  • Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and/or bodily functions: (the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions). Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for yourself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
  • Have a history of such an impairment
  • Are regarded as having such an impairment

ADA and Reasonable Accommodation

Employers are required by the ADA to make a “reasonable accommodation,” which is one of your rights, for those with a documented disability as long as it does not cause an undue burden for the company, such as substantial inconvenience or expense. 

You may have the lawful right to a reasonable accommodation that will allow you to perform your job more effectively. A reasonable accommodation is a variation in how things are typically done at work. 

Work schedule changes

Changes in the break and work schedules (e.g., scheduling work around therapy appointments), specific shift assignments, and permission to work from home are just a few examples of possible accommodations.

Any mental health problem that, if left untreated, would “seriously impede” your mental focus, engagement with others, communication, eating, sleep, self-care, managing your feelings or thoughts, or doing any other “major life activity” is eligible for a reasonable accommodation. You need not have to discontinue therapy to qualify for the accommodation.

A healthy work-life balance or job sharing is the fundamental examples of reasonable accommodations for an employee with depression, as are the little arrangements like time off for therapy or support group meetings, a quiet or out-of-the-way workspace, extended leave after hospital treatment, and allowing the worker to work from home on occasion.

If you’re facing this, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. You can find a therapist at BetterHelp who can help you learn how to cope and address it.


In this blog, we have discussed the ways in which we can help people in our work settings if they suffer from depression. We have also covered UK and US laws that protect employees from unfair dismissal. We have talked about the kind of accommodations employees can request from their superiors who are bound to them by law.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Are you Unable to Work due to Depression? (UK & USA laws: All you need to know)

What to do if you can’t work because of mental health?

There are some financial assistance alternatives if you have been unable to work due to a mental health illness or another disability. These include 

  • Disability insurance
  • Social Security Income (SSI)
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Is depression a protected disability?

Physical disabilities are simpler to define, while mental disabilities are more difficult to comprehend. The ADA recognizes clinical depression as a disability.

What kind of depression qualifies for disability?

You must be able to establish that you have at least five of these symptoms to be eligible for disability allowance due to depression: depressed state of mind, almost all activities have lost their appeal. A weight shift is caused by an appetite disturbance (lack of appetite or overeating).

Does depression count as a disability UK?

Currently, the legislation takes into account the individual’s impacts of a disability. Someone suffering from a moderate form of depression with few side effects, for example, may not be covered. Anyone with severe depression that has a major impact on their everyday life, on the other hand, is likely to be declared disabled.

Can I take time off work for mental health UK?

Employees can take time off for mental health issues since they are treated the same as any other ailment.

Can my work sack me for being off with depression? (UK)

The basic answer is yes, as long as a fair process is followed. The same restrictions apply if the individual is suffering from severe anxiety or stress.


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