Talking to employers about your mental health

When you apply for jobs you may have to talk about your mental or physical health, or discuss other personal information with your employer. This could be when filling in an application form or an occupational health questionnaire.

In addition, if you have an employment specialist (ES) they can build relationships with employers to explore job opportunities. To do this, they’ll need to give a limited amount of information about your health. Your ES and you will agree what they will say. They won’t talk about diagnosis or lots of details - the emphasis will be on your strengths, skills and motivation to work.

It’s worth remembering that when you start work you may need to take time off for regular medical appointments.  You might therefore feel more comfortable if you’re able to tell your employer about your health history, to ensure that you receive the right support.  If you want to mention your health to your colleagues you may feel more comfortable doing this after you’ve started work, when you know them better.

Talking about your mental health may be an ongoing process, rather than something you only do when applying for or when starting a new job.

There are two basic rules to remember when thinking about discussing personal information with an employer:

1. You should only talk about your mental health if it helps your job search objectives. For example, while you’re looking for a job, letting your ES pass on some information to employers on your behalf will help you to access the ‘hidden labour market’.

2. Think about your employer’s possible reaction to talking about your mental health. If you feel they’ll react positively, you should talk to them as soon as possible during the recruitment process. If you feel they might be negative, choose your timing for the discussion very carefully. You will have more legal protection if you mention it after you have been formally offered the job.

If you do decide to discuss your health condition with an employer you are protected by law under the Equality Act (2010). The Act applies to mental health problems or other health conditions lasting for 12 months or more. It states that it’s illegal for an employer to not consider you for employment because of your health history.  It doesn’t cover addictions, but if you have secondary health conditions as a result of your addiction problems you will be covered.

The Equality Act also entitles you to ‘reasonable adjustments’ where necessary when you start work. These could include agreed time off for medical appointments, or arranging for a support worker or team member to check in with you at difficult times.

Why discuss your health condition with an employer?

  • If you have an employment specialist (ES) they can build relationships with employers to talk about possible jobs for you. To do this, they’ll need to give a limited amount of information about your health. Your ES will only pass on information you’re comfortable with. They will help you agree a statement you can use when talking to employers. There are some examples of statements at the bottom of this page. [hyperlink]Your ES won’t talk about diagnosis or details - the emphasis will be on your strengths, skills and motivation to work
  • Up to 70% of jobs are never advertised. Your ES can find out about these for you, but they’ll need to be able to talk about your mental health history. Accessing the hidden labour market is an important part of job seeking
  • It can help you reach your objective of getting a job or performing well at your job
  • It allows you to ask for reasonable adjustments
  • Your employment specialist or OT will be able to liaise directly with the employer to provide support around reasonable adjustments
  • It may make going to work easier during a difficult period
  • Colleagues can offer you support
  • If talking about your mental health helps you get a job, it could strengthen your recovery
  • It can help change negative stereotypes that employers and colleagues may have, as well as challenging stigma
  • It may empower others to discuss their personal information with an employer
  • It’s important that you answer direct ‘Yes/No’ questions on the medical questionnaire accurately. If you give false information the employer is within their rights to dismiss you
  • If your disability has any health and safety implications for you or for others, the law says you must inform your employer
  • You may need to explain some gaps or other unusual parts of your CV
  • You can build an open working relationship from the beginning

Why you might choose not to:

  • The law says you do not have to unless you are asked a direct question during the recruitment process, for instance by Occupational Health.  Employers can only ask the question if they can demonstrate that they are using the information in order to offer reasonable adjustments, or to monitor diversity in their workplace
  • You may worry that people will have negative stereotypes
  • You may be afraid that others may discriminate against you
  • Employers may wrongly assume you’ll be less productive or not so good at your job
  • Identifying yourself as disabled may conflict with your own self-image
  • You may feel that your disability doesn’t directly affect your ability to do the job  

Plan your discussion of your health condition with employers:

  • Check whether the organisation has an equal opportunities policy. This should explain how they approach disability during recruitment and employment
  • Decide when you are going to discuss your health: on the application form or health questionnaire; at the interview; or once you start work. Decide who you are going to tell. For example, the Human Resources or Occupational Health departments may know your diagnosis, but it doesn’t mean that your supervisor or workmates need to know. It’s important to remember that you have more legal protection if you discuss your health condition after the job offer has been made and accepted
  • If you’ve decided to discuss your personal information, be clear about why you’re doing this. You don’t need to go into any personal details such as your diagnosis or any treatment you have received. Instead, focus on the details relevant to doing the job well
  • For instance, if you have an employment gap on an application, all you need to do is to state that you took time off for health issues and then focus on any positives. For example, did you take up any hobbies or courses during that time?

How to tell your employer about your mental health:

Job application:

If they ask you ‘have you got any health problems?’ don’t say ‘no’ if the answer is ‘yes’. You could answer with something like:

  • None that would affect my ability to do the job
  • I’ll discuss this at an interview
  • Nothing applicable to this job
  • I previously had ________ which I’ve now recovered from and I don’t feel that this will affect my work performance
  • I have a health condition but I feel I’ll still be able to do the job as required
  • Leave it blank and explain verbally in a job interview if required

CV:

If you’ve got gaps in your work record, base your CV on your skills. A recent work experience or voluntary placement may also help to make the gaps less important.

At the interview:

The phrases used for the job application (see above) can also be used in interviews. You could also say, for example: ‘I have good insight into my health condition. I know my early warning signs for illness and I’ve developed strategies to manage them.’ If they ask you to explain, have examples ready (‘If I start feeling… then I…’). There are more useful statements at the bottom of this page.

After you’re offered the job:

Choose an appropriate time to talk to your employer in private. Again, the emphasis should be on your skills, motivation and commitment to doing the job, and that you are in recovery.

Planning ahead:

Plan and practise in advance what you you’d like to say - with your ES, a friend or somebody you find supportive and who can give you feedback. It helps to write down a short statement that you can use at times like this. There are examples of statements at the end of this document.

If you’re ever concerned about how and when to discuss your mental health conditions please talk to your employment specialist.

Statements

Here are some examples of statements people have used when they spoke to their employer about their mental health. You can work on your own statement with your ES and put it into your own words:

  • I have coping strategies and support in place and am ready to return to work
  • I received intensive treatment for my mental illness and have been able to overcome my illness and regain my independence
  • I had some time off due to ill health. I am now well and have learned how to manage stress, which I feel is an asset
  • I had anxiety, which has given me a better understanding of myself and more empathy for others who may experience difficult situations
  • I was suffering from depression over that period of time and am aware of my triggers and have solutions to address them with outside support
  • My health challenges have given me a unique opportunity to re-evaluate what really mattered to me in life, and to make the right choices work-wise. This is how I decided to redirect my career to (chosen line of work)
  • My period of mental ill health has helped me learn how to manage my health, taught me coping mechanisms and given me more empathy and depth
  • Past health experiences have affected my wellbeing but I have used the last two years to focus on my recovery, studying and volunteering. I’m now ready to work
  • I’m pleased to say that I’ve learned and grown as an individual as a result of having had some health issues. These are now resolved