Category Archives: Equality Act 2010

Mental Health In The Workplace

mental health

Source: Free Digital Images/artur84

The death of Robin Williams this week has highlighted the issues of mental health and its devasting effects.  Mental health in the workplace is often a difficult subject to deal with as it can be misunderstood.  Mental health issues can include depression, anxiety and bi polar disease to name but a few conditions.  Employees with mental health issues may appear troublesome and managing them can be difficult to their behaviour which can include being disruptive, turning up for work late or not showing up at all.

Mental health is surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and fear.  People with mental health have many problems may include:

  • People become isolated
  • They are excluded from everyday activities
  • It is harder to get or keep a job
  • People can be reluctant to seek help, which makes recovery slower and more difficult
  • Their physical health is affected

One in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives and one in ten young people.  We shall probably work with someone experiencing mental health and those who have mental health issues fear the reaction about discussing their problems.

There are many myths about mental health issues:

  • Mental health problems are very rare.
  • People with mental illness aren’t able to work.
  • Young people just go through ups and downs as part of puberty, it’s nothing.
  • People with mental health illnesses are usually violent and unpredictable
  • It’s easy for young people to talk to friends about their feelings.

People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others:  90% of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress.  Substance abuse appears to play a role: The prevalence of violence is higher among people who have symptoms of substance abuse (discharged psychiatric patients and non-patients).

It makes good business sense to support employees with mental health issues.  The Equality Act 2010 protects employees with mental health issues and they are protected against disability discrimination.

Where an employee’s mental health is impacting on their job role an employer should seek occupational health advice to establish if they are fit for work and if there are any reasonable adjustments that could be made to enable them to remain the workplace.  It is essential to seek such advice particularly if dismissal is being considered.

An employer needs to demonstrate they have taken into account the following which was set out in case law Lynock v Cereal Packaging Ltd [1988] IRLR 511,:

  • the nature of the illness
  • the likelihood of it recurring or of some other illness arising
  • the length of the various absences and the periods between them
  • the need for the employer to have the work done
  • the impact of the absences on other employees
  • the importance of a personal assessment of the situation
  • the importance of consultation with the employee
  • the importance of appropriate warnings of dismissal if there is no noticeable improvement.


Hearing Loss – Issues for the Workplace

Hearing loss - issues for the workplace

“Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom /”.

Many disabilities can be hidden and this is very true for individuals with hearing loss.  My elderly father is about to be fitted with two hearing aids and I know several people both young and old who are deaf or now have hearing problems. To me it seems therefore that deafness is common and hearing loss raises issues for the workplace.

Those of us who do not have hearing problems take our hearing for granted.  However, according to Action On Hearing Loss ( one in six of us have a hearing problem which means 10 million people in the UK; this figure is rising.  Many people take ten years to deal with their hearing loss and despite two million people having hearing aids only 1.4 million actually use them regularly whilst a further four million could do with using them. Men are more likely to suffer from hearing problems compared to women.

Hearing loss can take many forms.

This can mean profound deafness, but may also be used to describe a less severe hearing loss. Deaf people may use British Sign Language (BSL), Sign Supported English (SSE), speech-to-text, lip reading, or a combination of these. Hearing aids may be of little benefit to someone who is profoundly deaf. Deaf’ (with a capital letter) usually refers to deaf people who use BBSL as their first or preferred means of communication and who consider themselves part of the Deaf community. Sign language however is as diverse as language itself and there are lots of different sign languages across the world.  In the UK the Deaf community sees itself as a linguistic minority rather than a group of people with a disability.

For companies that use publicity materials to be more inclusive, the term “deaf” (note the lower case ‘d’) should be used as this can refer to people who are Deaf, deafened or severely hard of hearing.

This is used to describe people who were born hearing and became severely or profoundly deaf as adults, often suddenly. Deafened people usually have good English skills and may use speech-to-text reporters, lipspeakers or electronic notetakers to aid communication. Many deafened people have cochlear implants – small, complex electronic devices that help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.  This can help them cope with lip reading which an often present many problems as many words have the same lip shapes.

Hard of hearing
This term refers to anyone with a mild to severe loss. It is usually used to describe people who have lost their hearing gradually as they have become older. Some hard of hearing people wear hearing aids and find lip reading helpful in certain situations. They may also find sound enhancement systems beneficial, such as loops and infra red.

A recent BBC programme, Inside Out East (, highlighted how a simple visit to the shops  can be a huge struggle for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Although the technology exisits to help such individuals the programme found that only one in six retail outlets are actively using hearing loops which allow people with hearing problems to take part in a conversation and convey their needs.  The programme shockingly exposed Next and John Lewis as poorly performing yet high profile retail outlets and compared this against Sainsbury’s who ensure that hearing loops are used because they see the benefits to their customers.

The Equality Act 2010 provides for reasonable adjustments to be made and access to services and products should be readily available otherwise discrimination is taking place.

A total of 3.7 million people are of working age have hearing difficulties with 40% who are aged over 50 which has implications for employers.To avoid discrimination employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments by:

  • changing a provision, criterion or practice (ie the way things are done)
  • adjusting physical features – such as the layout of an office or room
  • providing equipment such as an induction loop or textphone.

Employers should always check job descriptions to ensure there are no barriers to those with hearing problems; allowing an individual to use purely email for communication rather than communicating by phone for example. Then at interview employers should ask what reasonable adjustments the individual requires.  Whilst not all requirements may be possible due to financial constraints, the employer should strive wherever possible to meet any needs.

What’s In a Name?

This is a guest blog by Snéha Kilhay, Director of Blue Tulip Training which supports organisations in the areas of Cultural Diversity and Bullying/Harassment

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’  William Shakespeare.

I recently conducted a bullying and harassment investigation for a large organisation.  I interviewed a witness who, despite being told my name both by email and at the start of the meeting, asked if she could call me ‘Mary’.

I must confess, given the serious nature of the interview, I was surprised and rather uncomfortable at this request.

Generally, I am in awe of the multicultural aspect of the UK.  However, the witness’s response made me question whether we have made as much progress around diversity as we like to believe.  I recall that, when at school over 35 years ago, during registration there would routinely be heavy pauses as teachers tried to read my name and then state along the lines of ‘the girl with the foreign name that I can’t be bothered to pronounce’.  This was also aligned with a stream of awkward corrections as teachers tried to pronounce my name, to which their main response was ‘Why can’t we call you ‘Sue’; it would make our life so much easier?’
Fast forward 35 years, into a new century and the exciting world of technological advancement allowing greater connection world-wide.
Yet, in December 2012, the all party parliamentary group on race and community published a study showing that women who ‘whitened’ or ‘anglicised’ their names on job applications sent only half as many job applications before being invited for interview. (Guardian, 12 April 2013)
What is the trigger of discomfort, this resistance to foreign names?  Whilst we indulge in celebrities’ giving their children unusual (and some might consider them outlandish) names, for instance Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple, David Beckham’s daughter, Harper 7, do we resort to past patterns of experience to create, even insist on familiarity because it provides some form of safety?
Mohammed Siddique*, a well established and successful entrepreneur, made a conscious decision to anglicise his name.  He explained that, given he had adapted his dress, his accent and even his diet to be accepted in Britain, it seemed only logical to adapt his name to overcome hurdles, get results and be successful.  His established clients admitted that they would not have contemplated doing business with companies whose MD had such a foreign-sounding name.  Mohammed acknowledged that he was weary of the negative, terrorist-related connotations around his names, especially in airports; so much so that he is now considering changing his name by deed poll.  Does this mean that some immigrants have needed to anglicise, adapt or even ditch their foreign sounding names despite living in an evolving, multicultural Britain and its heavy focus on equality legislation?
I am aware that, amongst friends and colleagues, there is a dichotomy about changing names.  Some believe that having an ethnic and /or unusual name limits their recruitment opportunities and career progression.  Others believe strongly that the solution to this problem of latent, subliminal bias in recruitment and promotion is to take authority and anglicise their name.  Others change their names simply to fit in, acknowledging that their foreign name is hard to pronounce and it is therefore more convenient and sociable to adapt their name or create a nickname to which their peers can warmly respond.  It is common knowledge that Barack Obama used ‘Barry’ rather than his birth name whilst at college.  One colleague acknowledged that her family changed their surname to an anglicised spelling, as they had been living in UK for some years and wanted to be fully integrated into the society which they had become part of.  She added that, had the changes to her name been imposed on her, she would have felt resentful.
There are a number of communities, for instance, Jewish Refugees during WW2, Poles shortly afterwards and, more recently, those coming from Iran, China, India, and Africa who, as a coping mechanism, have assigned easy to pronounce, anglicised names whilst retaining traditional ethnic names for their family and communities.
On the flip side, many feel strongly that, by changing their name, they are negating their sense of self, betraying their culture and eradicating an important part of their ethnic identity, that too only in favour of social convenience.  Others believe that anglicising their name would be a mockery, a sense of contempt of their identity.  Their argument is that names can be broken down into short syllables and colleagues can get used to unusual names after repeating it a few times, just like learning any other new word.  One friend said she could not bear to be insulted with the term ‘coconut’ – white on the inside and brown on the outside were she to anglicise her name and not be true to her roots and origins.
Fundamentally this is about choices.  It is apparent that – not just in the UK – but in other parts of the world, there is a degree of contempt and prejudice against ethnic minorities.  The issue is whether people choose to change their name, to get their foot in the door, whatever that door represents.  Is there a willingness to take time to explain and understand the correct pronunciation of their name, perhaps its meaning and facilitating a productive conversation with the peers in the process?  In the situation with the witness, whether her reasons were; fear, ignorance, anxiety or even lack of effort, she indicated an indifference about my name and wanted to impose a name familiar to her but not right for me.  The crippling aspects of indifference, negative judgement or even apathy – an ‘I can’t be bothered’, attitude leaves me wondering if British organisations, despite advancements in equality legislation, are taking one step forward and two steps back if there are in favour of only British-sounding names.
‘If you acknowledge my name you pay me a subtle compliment, you indicate that I have made an impression on you.  Acknowledge my name and you add to my feeling important’.  Adapted from Dale Carnegie’s Quote.

‘Our job as recruiters is to send what we deem to be the right CV to our clients.  If I put forward a candidate with an unusual or a foreign name, 90% of the time I will hear nothing.  When there are 300 CVs to go through any foreign name is likely to be deleted without even being opened.  We feel dreadful about it but essentially it is a matter of time saving’.  Guardian April 12 2013

‘My name has 14 letters.  When I graduated, the university took time to ring my parents to ask how my name should be pronounced at the ceremony.

It was really nice of the university, we were all (pleasantly) shocked.  People are usually just too ignorant to make the effort’.  Quote from Student Forum
*Names have been changed

Snéha can be contacted at:

Blue Tulip Training
(Essence of Equality)
Telephone: 01923 467885
Mobile: 07788 446191


Stand Up to Bullying Day – Actions for Employers

Today is international Stand Up to Bullying Day which is celebrated by 25 countries including the UK.
Bullying and harassment is nasty conduct which makes people feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It might not be obvious to other people, but it is always about the perception of the person being bullied or harassed. The behaviour may be between two people, manager and employee or two employees or may even involve groups of employees. It has various forms – it could be a one off incident or may be persistent. It can be written in an email or letter, by phone and even face to face. No matter what form it takes, it can be very damaging to those affected.
Examples of bullying and harassment include:
  • constant criticism


  • picking on someone



  • undermining of competence



  • exclusion or victimisation



  • insulting someone



  • unfair treatment



  • denying promotional opportunities


Harassment could be related to a protected characteristic as outlined in the Equality Act 2010 which includes  race, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, maternity, religion, marriage or civil partnership and it is unlawful.
It is often very difficult for a person being bullied or harassed to complain. Often they can not cope with the situation and resign.
It is important for employers to have a policy in place that spells out all the options available to employees and so they know who they can complain to.   If it is an employee’s manager who has been doing the bullying and harassment, then it should be possible for the employee to approach HR or a trade union for assistance. Many larger organisations have harassment counsellors in place who are employees specially trained to assist employees.
There could be a huge impact on an organisation for failing to acknowledge and deal with a bullying and harassment situation which includes loss of morale, poor performance, loss of profits, absence, turnover and unlimited compensation in an employment tribunal.

As well as employees, an organisation is responsible for preventing harassment against:

■ agency workers,
■ ex-employees – where the discriminatory act is closely connected to
their employment,
■ job applicants,
■ contract workers including consultants and other professionals,
■ students on work experience,
■ vocational trainees,
■ volunteers, if they receive an allowance or are contracted to provide a service,
■ board members, non executive directors, and councillors, and
■ customers harassed by an employee providing a service to t

Employers can be held vicariously liable for the conduct of their employees if they have taken no action to defend a situation.  By having a policy in place this will provide a defence.  

A policy should include: 
  • a statement from senior managers


  • definitions of unacceptable behaviour



  • details of responsibilities



  • how employees can raise complaints about bullying



  • an outline of the procedure that will be taken



  • information on potential outcomes


It should be well communicated to the workforce and training provided to all employees so they know how the policy is operated.
Furthermore it is important to promote a zero tolerance culture lead by senior management.