Everyone has the right to just and favourable conditions of work, and to be free from discrimination in the workplace.
This extends to people suffering with mental health illness who deserve equal treatment in the workplace. It is not uncommon for workers to deal with a mental health illness at some stage of their working life. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has reported that mental health conditions will affect one in four people throughout their lifetime. Businesses that force an employee with a mental health illness to take unpaid leave or reduce their working hours without consent or justifiable grounds (such as where the safety of the person or others is jeopardized) risks discriminating against such employees, as well as stigmatizing mental illness.
Stigmatizing mental health can discourage employees from seeking help for fear of repercussions, adversely affecting their health and well-being. All persons have a right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, and it is recognized that mental health is integral to this right. The OHCHR has reported that persons with mental health conditions have an estimated drop in life expectancy of 20 years for men and 15 years for women.
Businesses should not penalize those who are suffering from a mental illness by reducing their hours or forcing them to take leave, as it can also send the wrong message to other employees who may be suffering from mental illness, whether diagnosed or not. Many people never seek help for their mental illnesses for fear of stigma and repercussions at work. Forcing workers to take unpaid leave or reducing their working hours against their consent or without justifiable grounds may not only lead to an exacerbation of that worker’s conditions, but it may also negatively impact other workers.