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The Employment Equality Directive and supporting people with psychosocial disabilities in the workplace

January 13th 2017

This report, written by the European network of legal experts in gender equality and nondiscrimination, discusses the situation for people with psychosocial disabilities in the workplace in light of the Employment Equality Directive and other relevant anti-discrimination regulations, including the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The report specifically focuses on variations in national definitions of disability, issues of stigma and disclosure, and the right to reasonable accommodation for people with psychosocial disabilities.

The workplace is a crucial site for mental health policy

For those individuals who experience mental health problems, there is frequently an impact upon their working lives. A period of poor health may lead to absence from the workplace and pose the challenge of managing a successful resumption of work at a later point in time. In general, being in work can be beneficial for maintaining good mental health. Yet adverse working conditions can be a contributing factor to experiencing mental health problems. Therefore, the workplace is a crucial site for mental health policy. An inclusive working environment makes a contribution to reducing the social and economic consequences of mental ill-health by enabling people to participate in employment and to remain in jobs after a health-related absence.

Need for better awareness

The report finds that there is a need for better awareness of psychosocial disability and its relevance to non-discrimination legislation. This includes greater awareness of the role that non-discrimination legislation, including the duty to provide reasonable accommodation, can play in promoting labour market participation of people with psychosocial disabilities.

In the report, the authors also point to the importance of policy makers and courts, including the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), being aware of the role that stigma can play in creating disadvantages for people with psychosocial disabilities, and take this into account when interpreting the concept of disability.

It is suggested that future case law of the Court should recognise that stigma, prejudice and false assumptions can have a particularly disabling effect on persons with disabilities, and especially persons with psychosocial disabilities. It should not require that an impairment, on its own, must first have an impact on capacity to work, before an individual can be recognised as disabled and / or claim protection from disability discrimination.

How to combat stigma

The report highlights that there is a role for government and business initiatives to combat stigma related to psychosocial disabilities. At present only a minority of Member States have adopted national or regional programmes to combat such stigma. Concerted action by government and business is needed to build a climate where workers have the confidence to disclose any needs related to a psychosocial disability, and therefore have access to reasonable accommodations. At the level of the individual workplace, employers need to develop a culture where workers feel able to disclose mental health problems knowing that these will be handled with sensitivity and support. At the same time, employers should avoid excessive demands for information from workers who are seeking an accommodation. This can help to circumvent the barriers arising from workers’ reluctance to disclose psychosocial disabilities.

Further Reading

Download the document from the website of the European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination