Equality Law

Many people who have mental health difficulties experience prejudice or discrimination. Prejudice is a term that refers to negative attitudes held towards a certain group of people, while discrimination is the unfair behaviour that results from such attitudes.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly because of a mental health difficulty, you may be able to benefit from Ireland’s equality legislation. You may also want to learn about the organisations that can help and support you in making sure your rights are respected.

Why do we need these laws?

Ireland’s equality legislation or laws exist to protect people from prejudice and discrimination. The law states that people may experience prejudice or discrimination when buying goods and services, or when finding or keeping a job.
Research by Amnesty International in 2010 found that 36% of people with a mental health difficulty had experienced unfair treatment when finding a job, while 43% of people felt they had been treated unfairly in the workplace.
Being able to work productively, feel a part of society and live independently is something we all want, and can be an important part of the recovery process. Everyone deserves a fair chance when looking for a job, and we all deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace.

What does our equality legislation aim to do?

Ireland’s equality legislation exists to protect people from certain kinds of discrimination. People with mental health difficulties are covered under this law, as part of the disability category. The law applies to you if you are currently experiencing mental health difficulties, or if you have experienced mental health difficulties in the past. The aim of equality legislation is to help you:
• Access employment
• Participate and advance in employment
• Undertake training

There are two main equality laws:
• The Employment Equality Acts, 1998- 2011 protect people from employment discrimination. This includes discrimination in finding a job, keeping a job or doing work experience or vocational training. They also include advertising, equal pay, promotion and dismissal.

• The Equal Status Acts, 2001-2011 protect people against discrimination when buying or accessing goods and services. This could include discrimination when accessing healthcare, education, social opportunities or while looking for accommodation.

So what are my rights?

Your employer must take certain steps to support you to work to your full potential while you cope with a mental health difficulty. Two terms are important here: “reasonable accommodation” and “appropriate measures”.“Reasonable accommodation” means that everything reasonable must be done to accommodate your needs when accessing goods and services. For example, a student with agoraphobia (a fear or anxiety around public places) could be provided with access to a private study room by their university to help reduce their distress when studying.

However, it is only expected that special steps will be taken if it will not cost too much. The law states that steps do not have to be taken if they go beyond “nominal cost”. This term, “nominal cost”, is not a fixed amount and varies in different circumstances.

“Appropriate Measures” means that an employer must take certain steps to support an employee with a mental health difficulty to do their work. For example, the employer could arrange for flexible hours if a person with depression is struggling in the mornings. They could also agree an action plan to help support a person who is returning to work after a period of illness.

Appropriate measures could also include:

• Time off to attend medical appointments
• Providing relevant training to support you in carrying out your duties

However, as with “reasonable accommodation”, appropriate measures only have to be put in place to a point. The employer does not have to take these steps if to do so would be too much of a burden on them or the business. Specifically, the law states that appropriate measures must be put in place unless to do so would impose a “disproportionate burden” on the employer.

Does different treatment always mean discrimination?

It is important to note that different treatment does not always mean discrimination, and that the Employment Act has certain key exemptions. This means that there are certain cases where the act does not apply. For example, an employer can pay a different rate of pay where, due to disability, the amount of work done by one employee is less than the amount of work done by another employee doing the same job.

More information

For more information on your rights under equality legislation, contact the Equality Authority.

The Equality Authority is an independent State body that has information about your rights under equality legislation. It promotes equality of opportunity and provides information to the public on the equality legislation. It can advise and support you to bring a claim but it has no power to decide a case.
The Equality Authority has published three leaflets on equality legislation and mental health. For more, see:
“Equality and mental health: how the law can help you” .

“Equality and mental health: what the law means for your workplace”.

“Equality and mental health: what advocates need to know”.

This information has been adapted from leaflets produced by ‘The Equality Authority’ and ‘SeeChange’, the National Mental Health Reduction Partnership.