Workplace protection of employees suffering from depression: A South African perspective

Authors Bernice Welgemoed, Elsabe Huysamen

ISSN: 2413-9874
Affiliations: Associate Lecturer, University of the Western Cape; Lecturer, University of the Western Cape
Source: Industrial Law Journal, Volume 40 Issue 1, 2019, p. 41 – 59


Depression is a mood disorder that negatively affects the way in which a person feels. This can ultimately impact on an employee’s ability to work, and often results in extensive periods of absenteeism. Individuals who suffer from depression are frequently reluctant to share their knowledge of illness due to continuing societal prejudice around issues of mental health, and specifically depression. Fears of being subjected to unfair discrimination or ridicule because of depression also often contribute to the decision by employees not to disclose their mental health status to employers and/or colleagues. The labour courts in South Africa have largely tendered two different views on how employers should approach depression in the workplace. The first view holds that depression should be approached as an incapacity ill-health issue, while the second view argues that depression is more appropriately to be approached as part of disability protection for purposes of employment law. This article will discuss the general protection of people with disabilities in the workplace, and then investigate where depression could best fit into this overall scheme. This will include examining the decisions to date by the South African labour courts on the issue of depression, and what lessons could perhaps be learnt from the way in which the United Kingdom approaches depression in the workplace.