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Can employer argue that Bipolar Disorder is not a disability?

(26 Posts)
Ferntree Sun 25-May-14 20:07:40

Can an employer argue that a condition is not a disability covered by the Equality Act 2010?

I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder for some years, and it has been very well managed with medication and care from medical professionals.

Recently, however, my condition has started to destabilise so I requested reasonable adjustments to my timetable and workload, as I was under the impression that Bipolar Disorder is covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Last week, the HR lady told me that she felt that my Bipolar Disorder was not a disability covered by the Equality Act 2010 as it did not seem to have an adverse affect on my day-to-day activities for the last few years that I have worked for them.

I was shocked. The only reason I was managing OK was because of medication for the condition!

We argued and they agreed to get OH to see me and assess if Bipolar Disorder is a disability under Equality Act 2010. Even still, HR lady was adamant that she did not think I would be covered.

Can my employer argue that Bipolar Disorder is not a disability covered by the Equality Act 2010 and therefore they do not need to make reasonable adjustments?

SofiaAmes Sun 25-May-14 20:33:04

I just googled the equality Act 2010 and found the official Guidance and it's very very clear that bipolar, even if you haven't had an episode because you are managing with medication, is to be considered a disability. See section C10 for discussion on how to view a medicated condition and section C6 for mention of bipolar. I don't think there is any doubt that you are in the right and am surprised that an HR person could interpret this in any other way. And frankly given that bipolar episodes are often triggered by stress, it's unconscionable (and perhaps actionable) that she didn't do her homework before stressing you with the possibility that they won't consider this a disability.
As the parent of a bipolar child, I completely understand how difficult this must be for you.
By the way, have you had your vitamin d levels checked. There is a significant connection between vitamin d deficiency and bipolar/depression episodes.

addictedtosugar Sun 25-May-14 20:57:48

We covered this in a training course last week. The trainer was very clear. Your condition is to be evaluated as unmedicated. So controlled by meds is not a reason to reject your revaluation.
From what I remember of the course, and a family's bipolar, it would class as a disability.
I hope work see sense, and you stabilise soon.

GotMyGoat Sun 25-May-14 21:00:08

Absolutely yes it's a disability!

Bloody stupid HR woman.

Ferntree Sun 25-May-14 21:51:10

Phew! I was worrying!

I take vitamin D supplements, and also omega 3 as that is meant to help too.


SofiaAmes Sun 25-May-14 22:02:53

Yes omega 3's too!!!! My father is just about to publish a paper on the importance of Vitamin D and Omega 3's for the mood disorders.

SofiaAmes Sun 25-May-14 22:04:34

Make sure you ask for an extra week off for the extra stress from the hr woman suggesting that it's not a disability. Maybe they won't do that again to someone else if they have some consequences to their irresponsible behavior (it really is the hr person's responsibility to be informed about the basic facts of her job).

fascicle Sun 25-May-14 23:27:15

From the FAQ section of the Bipolar UK organisation ('Should I tell my employer...question'):

Bipolar is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act which allows you to ask for reasonable adjustments in the work place that help support any disadvantage you might be experiencing. If you do not tell your manager, you cannot expect your employer to make reasonable adjustments.

SofiaAmes Sun 25-May-14 23:34:15

Ferntree, it seems that the argument that your hr person is making is that you have not had a recent episode of bipolar, therefore it does not fall under the definition of a disability. It's important to point out that there are specific definitions that discuss long term disabilities like bipolar and rheumatoid arthritis (2 diseases specifically mentioned in the Guidance) that are stabilized with medication. They are assessed completely differently than single incident disabilities.

rowna Mon 26-May-14 00:05:51

It's a bit of a minefield really. Because, as any OH dr will say, ultimately this is a legal decision (i.e. it's only definitively decided in court). So the wording of any OH report is "in my view they are likely/ or unlikely to be covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act".

From what I can gather, it's about whether your daily living activities would be substantially impaired in the long-term, were the medication to be removed.

There are people who have bipolar disorder who don't take medication and their daily living activities are not substantially impaired. It all depends on the individual case.

It's possibly easier to explain in terms of depression. A person who suffers from depression following a bereavement say, and has treatment for a few months then recovers - may not be considered to be covered. A person who has regularly had episodes of depression for decades, that say cause them to self harm, with no obvious triggers and lives their life taking antidepressants - may be considered to be covered.

I would go and see OH and see what the Dr thinks. Even if they do decide that you are covered, the employer only has a duty to try and make reasonable adjustments that fit in with the operational requirements of the business as I understand it. You cannot be guaranteed getting for example a reduction in shift time if it doesn't fit in with operational needs.

If it were me, I'd get assessed by the dr and go from there.

But you cannot definitely say all cases of Bipolar Disorder are covered.

Disclaimer: I'm an admin person working in OH. But that's the gist of my understanding.


SofiaAmes Mon 26-May-14 05:17:51

rowna, medicated, diagnosed bipolar disorder is a lifetime disease and is in no way comparable than an incident of depression following a bereavement. It's a pretty basic difference which any hr person should recognize. Kind of like the difference between a wart and a melanoma.

fascicle Mon 26-May-14 09:36:21

It really is incredibly shortsighted of your employer not to be more supportive. In addition to other legislation mentioned upthread, your employer has a Duty of Care towards employees. Ignoring/not supporting medical issues will conflict with this.

If you haven't spoken to them already, you could try contacting the Bipolar UK organisation mentioned earlier. They provide a guidance document for employers, as well as a reasonable adjustments form. I'm sure they will be able to advise you on next steps with your employer.

Hoppinggreen Mon 26-May-14 09:58:11

I went to a HR seminar at a solicitors practise last week run by employment lawyers.
They covered a few case studies and one was where a council had refused to acknowledge Bipolar as a disability and this had been overturned by the employment tribunal and the man had had a substantial payout.

rowna Mon 26-May-14 11:08:57

Sofia the point I was trying to make is that as with many illnesses the severity varies amongst people and what I have seen in practice is that whether someone is likely to be covered depends on the severity of the symptoms and the effect they have on that person's living activities long term. This is considered taking account of if the medication were taken away. . Which is why it tends to be advised on by an oh dr who can establish medical history. I'm not staying this is right or wrong, just that this is how the system works from my experience.

BrianTheMole Mon 26-May-14 11:24:12

Bi polar is a disability, controlled or otherwise.

LoveBeingInTheSun Mon 26-May-14 11:55:48

You must get this in writing, email the HR woman, as per our discussion and your insistence that my medical condition is not cover by the disability act, please can you confirm in writing the conpany position on this.

HermioneWeasley Mon 26-May-14 14:45:55

Yes, bipolar disorder would normally be a disability under the equality act, but if you have been fine and the medication has been omega and vitamin D then that would trouble me. Are you not on any mood stabilisers such as lithium?

Ferntree Mon 26-May-14 15:31:41

I have been on Olanzapine and Sertraline. I take omega 3 and vitamin D in addition to my medication. Sorry that was not clear.

Ferntree Mon 26-May-14 15:35:23

However, my medication is due to change as I have started to destabilise on my current meds.

HermioneWeasley Mon 26-May-14 15:37:02

On that basis, I am sure your condition would be covered

SofiaAmes Mon 26-May-14 16:04:41

You haven't mentioned your age, but is it possible that you are heading into peri-menopause and the reduction in the production of estrogen is affecting the bipolar. Going on the pill greatly helped a bipolar friend of mine in her 40's having similar issues.

Trojanhouse Wed 28-May-14 13:06:34

Defo a disability even if controlled with medicine
Hr woman needs training

flowery Wed 28-May-14 15:45:53

Where's your manager in all this OP?

Ferntree Thu 29-May-14 13:38:31

My manager was understanding but advised me to speak to HR as they are the 'employment specialists'.

flowery Thu 29-May-14 17:21:20

That's a cop-out. He or she should be on your side, not fobbing you off. Have you spoken to him/her about the adjustments you need? If your manager is supportive and prepared to make adjustments it's extremely unlikely HR are going to say he/she isn't 'allowed' to do so.

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