Dealing with mental issues in the workplace


The use of anti-depressants in South Africa has increased by more than 50% over the last five years. This, together with the classification of some mental illnesses as disabilities, is resulting in organisations having to rethink how they approach the recruitment process, says Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies.

Some companies specifically recruit people with disabilities because it counts towards their employment equity and BEE rating, but not every individual is forthcoming about their mental illness.

“If a potential employee who has been diagnosed with a mental illness that could impact their work performance does not disclose it if asked during the appointment process, the company could have grounds for termination later. However, because employees cannot be discriminated against because of their disability, the reason for their dismissal would therefore be the material impact the disability has on the job and the fact that they misrepresented themselves,” Myburgh notes.

From a legal perspective, the Employment Equity Act (EEA) protects people with disabilities against unfair discrimination in the workplace. The Disability Code of Good Practice sets out key aspects on the employment of people with disabilities. Ultimately, it comes down to how the impairment affects a person’s ability to work.

Enabling environment

“For its part, an organisation can take several steps to assist employees who are suffering from a mental illness,” says Myburgh. “This can include the likes of allowing additional sick leave, providing moral support, offering flexible work hours, and even offering the services of a psychologist or psychiatrist.

“Should the employee’s condition worsen, the ‘reasonable accommodation’ must be adjusted. If necessary, the company should consult with appropriate experts at its own cost. Based on their assessment, working time and leave could be adjusted, specialised support could be provided, and training and supervision in the workplace can be offered.