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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

 

Managing how personal information is shared between healthcare professionals, employee and employer


Often people with a mental health condition are reluctant to tell their employer (prospective or current) about their mental ill-health.  It is therefore important to discuss and agree what information can be shared, with whom and in what circumstances with your patient.  Personal information should only be shared with an employer or occupational support with the written consent of the patient. 

 

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) has now been superseded by a new Equality Act 2010 started to be implemented in October 2010.  The Act brings together nine separate pieces of legislation into one single Act simplifying the law and strengthening it in important ways to help tackle discrimination and inequality.  In particular, except in very restricted circumstances or for very restricted purposes, employers are not allowed to ask any job applicant about their health or any disability until the job applicant has been:

  • offered a job either outright or on conditions, or
  • included in a group of successful candidates to be offered a job when a position becomes available, where more than one post is being recruited to (for example, if an employer is opening a new workplace or expects to have multiple vacancies for the same role).

This includes asking such a question as part of the application process or during an interview.  Questions relating to previous sickness absence are regarded as questions that relate to health or disability. 

 

This applies to everyone, disabled or not, with a history of mental ill-health or not. 

No-one else can ask these questions on the employer’s behalf either. So an employer cannot refer an applicant to an occupational health practitioner or ask applicants to fill in a questionnaire provided by an occupational health practitioner before the offer of a job is made (or before a prospective employee has been included in a pool of successful applicants) except in very limited circumstances. 

 

An employer can ask questions once they have made a job offer or included an applicant in a group of successful candidates. At that stage, the employer could make sure that an applicant’s health or disability would not prevent him/her from doing the job. But the employer must also consider whether there are reasonable adjustments that would enable the employee to do the job.

The Government Equalities Office and also the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have produced short guides for employers about the Equality Act 2010.

 

Some employees may be happier for their GP and occupational health physician to share information with one another.  It is more likely that your patient will feel happy about their information being shared if there is a culture in their workplace of honest and open communication and partnership working. 

Links to resource


SHiFT

This is an initiative to tackle stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health issues in England. The campaign aims to create a society where people who experience mental health problems enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other people.  The website has links specifically for employers and employees.  However, you may find the line managers’ resource useful since it is a practical guide to managing and supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace.  The ‘keeping in touch during sickness absence’ section includes information about the role of GPs and the link between GPs and occupation health support.

 

Realising ambitions: Better employment support for people with a mental health condition

Rachel Perkins, Paul Farmer and Paul Litchfield

Department for Work and Pensions, December 2009

This review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look at mental health and employment and to identify how Government could help people with mental health conditions fulfil their employment ambitions.  Appendix 7 of the report sets out the advantages and disadvantages of disclosing information about mental ill-health at work.

 

Rethink

This section includes information on confidentiality and privacy.  It sets out the circumstances in which information can be shared.  The section on work includes pros and cons on disclosing personal information to an employer to help employees decide what to tell, when and how. 

 

Work and Mental Illness Factsheet

This Rethink factsheet sets out the advantages and disadvantages of telling an employer about mental ill-health.   

 

Building a career of your choice

Waghorn, G., Harris, M., Cleary, C., King, J., and Lloyd, C. Canberra:

Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2008.

This booklet has a short section on ‘Managing personal information in the workplace’.  It gives examples of some of the benefits of disclosing information about mental ill-health and how to approach this. 

 

Information Commissioners’ Office

This links to the ICO website with guidance and information for employers about the Data Protection Act.

The ‘Quick guide to the Employment Practices Code is aimed at small businesses and includes a section on the Data Protection Act in relation to the collection and use of information about workers’ health. 

 

Time to Challenge: Time to Change

This programme is jointly run by MIND and Rethink.  The ‘Telling my manager’ section includes advice for an employee in working with their employer.  It draws on examples from the UK and overseas. 

 

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Contributing to a multi-disciplinary health and social care team approach to working with employees and employer

 

Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our FAQ for advice on getting help.

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