Labour Law and Mental Illness


There is nothing uncommon about high levels of stress and anxiety being the result of the modern-day workplace, though few of us take the time to acknowledge the effect that this can have on our lives. In 2000, the World Health Organisation estimated that around 10 percent of those with mental-health disorders which should otherwise leave them incapable of working are in a position where they cannot stop doing so; which is no surprise. Though, more worryingly, is the high number of reports of harassment at the workplace based on one’s mental disability, that employees make.

In South Africa, there are many employers who do not have a full understanding and appreciation of how debilitating a mental disability can be. The frustration this may cause when they observe the resulting incompetence that these types of disorders can cause, may lead to abusive behaviour, discrimination and even unfair dismissals which often lead to lengthy and expensive court-cases.

So, to help you avoid this by becoming a more understanding and empathetic employee; here is what you need to know about mental illnesses in the workplace, how it could affect the productivity of your employees, where the law stands on this argument, and also how you can best handle the situation if you or your employees suffer from depression, anxiety or any other debilitating mental illnesses.

Mental illness, productivity and the workplace

For those who have never suffered extreme depression or anxiety, it can be difficult to imagine how it can be debilitating, how it can affect productivity, and even simple cognitive processes. The truth of the matter is that even the mildest mental disorders make even the most mundane tasks difficult to complete.

This lack of understanding commonly leads towards frustrations which come out in the mistreatment of employees when their superiors and even co-workers mistreat, discriminate against or undervalue the efforts and abilities of those who are suffering; which in turn leads to further lowered moral, mental soundness and ability.

The health of your employees

Ensuring minimal downtime requires you to see to the mental and physical health of your employees; though this isn’t always easy when it comes to mental disorders. This is because their effects are latent, and cannot be diagnosed easily as a result. A lack of knowledge surrounding mental disorders will make this even difficult.

That is why, as an employer, it is your responsibility to foster a working environment where these issues are addressed openly, and dealt with discreetly and fairly.

The right side of the law

It is also important to remember that individuals suffering from mental disorders are protected against discrimination and unfair treatment or dismissals according to section 90 of the ‘Basic Conditions of Employment Act.’

This means that it is in your best interest to stay on the right side of labour law by accommodating for the needs of those with mental disabilities, and being sensitives enough to tell when their mental state is getting in the way of their productivity, providing them fair treatment, avoiding discrimination, as well as allotting them what is required in their personal capacity to manage their disorder such as time off and a working environment with well managed stress levels.

Contact Michael Krawitz Attorneys today

If you have been discriminated against based on your mental disorder, or would like more information on how to manage disagreements in the workplace surrounding these conditions, be sure to contact  Michael Krawitz Attorneys for more information and legal aid for disability discrimination.

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