We welcome Louise Fraser from DPP Law who guides us through the subject of discrimination of those dealing with PTSD – what constitutes discrimination, what to do and the steps you can take.
As anyone who struggles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will know, the condition itself provides enough challenges without additional troubling issues being created by individuals who refuse to take the steps required to understand it, or support those who suffer from it. In the worst cases, those living with PTSD will experience discrimination that not only makes day to day life difficult, but also exacerbates symptoms of the condition, creating a vicious cycle.
So, what should you do if you face discrimination at work, or in any other part of life, as the result of a diagnosis of PTSD?
What constitutes discrimination due to PTSD?
The behaviour of colleagues, employers, or any other authority figure may amount to discrimination if they:
- fire you for having your condition or refuse to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to continue to do your job effectively.
- purposefully take action to make your day to day activities, or work, more difficult.
- refuse to properly consider you for a task, position or promotion as a direct result of your condition.
- harass you, make derogatory comments or share media, imagery or other material that mocks or criticises you for having your condition.
- refuse to give you access to assistance, for which you are eligible, that can help with your condition.
- ask questions, or make extensive enquiries, about your condition under circumstances that do not adhere to the following:
- helping to decide if you can carry out a task that is an essential part of the work
- helping to find out if you can take part in an interview
- helping to decide if the interviewers need to make reasonable adjustments for you in a selection process
- helping with monitoring
- taking action to increase the number of disabled people they employ
- making enquiries for the purposes of national security checks
It is your decision as to whether you tell an employer about your diagnosis, or not.
What can you do if you face discrimination due to PTSD?
The NHS defines PTSD as “an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.” Undue stress can exacerbate the condition’s symptoms, so those suffering from discrimination or abuse that focuses on their PTSD can find themselves feeling powerless – caught between the strain of being subjected to the discrimination and that of reporting it.
Reporting it, however, is undoubtedly the best way to overcome the problem. Not only will justice be done as a result, but your actions are also likely to have a very positive knock-on effect; the more people report discrimination, the less it will happen as perpetrators realise that their behaviour will have serious consequences.
Remember, there is usually a time limit of three months (minus one day) to take cases of workplace discrimination to court so it’s important to act swiftly if you would like to retain this as an option. This time limit may be extended, but only in very rare cases.
Here are the steps you should take when facing discrimination:
1. Try to discuss the issues with those responsible, if you can.
Those whom you feel are displaying discriminatory behaviour towards you may not realise that their actions are having such a profound negative effect unless you tell them. For those living with anxiety as a result of PTSD, this can be a difficult approach, so writing a letter or an email may be easier. Remember to keep a record of what you send, along with any response they may provide.
2. If the discrimination does not stop, inform a manager or a Human Resources officer.
If the problems are occurring at work, it’s a good idea to make use of any existing complaints, or grievances, procedures that are in place. After all, they’re there for a reason. Your employers and Human Resources department are duty-bound to respond to any direct reports of disputes, grievances or complaints. Ensure that you give as much detail as you can regarding the issue, including the times and dates of incidents and any relevant correspondence that has taken place between yourself and the individual at fault.
OR Inform their employer.
If the individuals discriminating against you are not employers, managers or colleagues of yours, you can still make a complaint against them by reporting their behaviour to their employers or any relevant ombudsman. If you have applied for certain services provided by the local council, for example, and have been unfairly refused them due to your condition, those managing the individuals involved may be able to help you.
3. Take legal action.
If none of the above options work, and you feel as though you are being ignored, the next step is to take legal action against the individual(s) involved. Many specialist Legal Advisors offer a free consultation when you first contact them, which will help you to work out whether you have a case before you take matters any further.
If it is decided that your case would stand up in court, you should then provide your lawyer or solicitor with any and all evidence available; this includes records of any discussions or correspondence between yourself and those you are accusing. You do not need to pay any fees in order to take a case to an employment tribunal if you are taking your employer to court. You can find further information about employment tribunals, along with the forms required to apply for one, via GOV.UK.
If you are planning on claiming against a service provider for discrimination, you must take the case to county court within 6 months (minus one day) of the incident in question, and you may be required to pay a small fee. However, if you are on a low income, you may be able to apply for legal aid in order to do this.
For things to move quickly, and to ensure that you have all the advice and guidance you need throughout the process, it’s a good idea to discuss your options with a Legal Advisor as soon as possible.