26 May

The world is changing at a rapid pace can be a source of significant stress and anxiety for many people. In South Africa, modern-day living with all the technological advancements and the uncertainty that comes with that plus the psychological effects of the lockdown are proving to have devastating effects on the mental health of South Africans.

As many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems according to statistics released by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). 

This impacts people in their place of employment as well, but do employees know what the law says about taking mental health leave from work.

October is also known as #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth and UASA has put today’s blog to assist our members with information regarding sick leave should they have mental health issues.

What does the law say about mental health leave in the workplace?

South African law protects the rights of workers with mental health issues. An employee’s right to equality, dignity, and fair labour practice is protected in the Constitution.

What’s more, the Employment Equity Act (EEA) protects employees from unfair discrimination based on illness or disability, and the Labour Relations Act (LRA) prohibits employers from dismissing employees because they are disabled or ill. 

But, can an employee take leave from work for depression and anxiety in South Africa? If an employee seeks the help of a medical professional for depression and anxiety, and they are told it’s best to be booked off for some time, then they do qualify to take sick leave, which every South African employee is entitled to take.

The doctor or medical professional is also not obligated to state the reasons for booking a patient off, and “medical condition” is sufficient for the sick note. If an employee is unable to get professional help, they need to approach their employer and have an open and honest discussion about what’s affecting them and, in turn, their work.

Possible solutions can include some sick leave days, periods of flexi-time, or reduced workload.

Removing the stigma and having open communication in the workplace

Employers need to take the time to educate themselves about mental health in the workplace in South Africa, and how they will manage employees who live with depression and anxiety. They should also look at how their working environment could be contributing to or exacerbating the issue. 

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