Disability insurer Unum Provident has backed calls from a committee of MPs for further clarification of mental illness as a disability.
Unum wants to see mental illness included in the legal definition of disability to make it easier for employers to process the increasing number of claims made by staff.
Corporate services director Joanne Hindle says the inclusion of mental illnesses would be recognition that they have become the chief cause of absence from work through illness.
She says the vast majority of cases are not serious psychological conditions but often stress-related.
The Disability Discrimination Act became law in 1996, with the aim of giving people legal protection against discrimination in the workplace. It is now being extended to cover small to mediumsized enterprises. The DDA committee scrutinising the existing legislation has published its report recommending that mental illnesses should be included in the new definition of disability.
The committee recommends changes to the requirement that mental illnesses, unlike physical disabilities, must be “clinically well recognised”. It also wants a reduction in the qualifying period for depression to be counted as a long-term condition.
Unum has published a guide for advisers to help them adapt their businesses.
Employers will have to have procedures in place to ensure that all their practices encompassing recruitment, training, development and dismissal of staff are not discriminatory.
Employers which do not adhere to the guidelines set out by the DDA could face big financial penalties.
Hindle says: “Mental illness has become the biggest claims' area. The vast majority of claims are not as a result of ser-ious psychological conditions but variants of stress.
“Employers need to know whether these are classified as disabilities as this would be helpful for the companies and insurers.”