Disciplinary proceedings are difficult on both employer and employee, especially when mental health is involved. The HSE report ‘Work related stress, anxiety or depression report’ highlights that in 2020/21, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases. Therefore, it is paramount employers tread carefully. 

Initiating disciplinary proceedings against an employee citing mental health issues, such as stress-induced anxiety, can be a complicated process. More employers recognising and seeking to mitigate mental health issues among their staff is a step in the right direction, yet mental health presents many complications for executives and managers when a sufferer is involved in disciplinary proceedings.

Employers should acknowledge, understand, and accommodate an employee’s mental health needs. There are occasions where employees, when faced with capability or disciplinary proceedings, raise mental health issues often for the very first time. Some employers may consider this a tactic to delay matters, however, caution should certainly be taken.

 Make allowances

Employers have the responsibility to help staff who have mental health issues. If an employee is suffering from anxiety, they may want to postpone a disciplinary meeting because the prospect may exacerbates their condition. Having said that, employers should recognise that leaving matters for too long can also have a negative effect as anxiety can build up over time.

Disciplinary proceedings and disability

Many employers are mindful that an employee may state their condition amounts to a disability and are therefore concerned about the best way to proceed. An employee would be classified as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to complete normal daily activities.

What ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ mean

  • ‘Substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task
  • ‘Long-term’ means 12 months or more

There are special rules about recurring or fluctuating conditions. Firstly, has the employee made superiors aware in the past they consider they have a disability?  Have previous absences from work shown a pattern that may give rise to consider the employee may have a disability?

Proceed with confidence

Simply because an employee has a disability, if there is a genuine need to carry out disciplinary proceedings it should not deter employers. They should give thought to any reasonable adjustments that need to be made for example, giving a longer notice time for a meeting or the timing of the meeting.

Often an employee faced with disciplinary proceedings will find the situation they are facing stressful and may ‘go on sick leave.’ Depending on the period of absence, it may be perfectly reasonable to still send an invite to a disciplinary meeting rather than leaving the matter in abeyance for several weeks thus exacerbating the problem. Employers should try and stick as close as possible to the disciplinary policy, but if any reasonable adjustments can be made, make effort to accommodate them.

When proceeding with the disciplinary, employers should remind the employee they have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or a colleague. Be flexible in terms of the timing and location of the hearing as a remote hearing may be more comfortable or convenient.

Treading carefully

Mental health is something to be treated seriously in the workplace. Employers should be mindful of their colleagues needs and ensure all team members are respected accordingly, even in the event of a disciplinary. This being said, employers simultaneously have the right to act with confidence in their decision making and should not be deterred when a challenging choice needs to be made.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.