Mental health organisations have joined together to urge MPs to abolish historic laws which discriminate against people with mental health issues.

The Mental Health Discrimination Bill seeks to abolish historic law preventing individuals with mental health issues from becoming or remaining company directors.

Currently, anyone with a mental health issue cannot become or remain a company director. This is the reason why many senior service agreements include a provision which automatically terminates the agreement without notice where the executive becomes of unsound mind or a patient under any statute relating to mental health.

The CEO of leading mental health organisation, Rethink Mental Illness, has stated that it is "absurd that capable, intelligent people are being excluded..People with physical illnesses such as cancer would never be treated in this way". The proposed legislation seeks to change this and remove the arbitrary exclusion of people from responsible roles, including company directors, those called upon for jury service and MPs, on the grounds that they are being treated for a mental illness.

If this legislation is passed, company directors with a serious mental illness will not have an automatic right to remain in post however. It would mean that a requirement to step down in those circumstances would need to be reasonable, in the same way that a company director with a serious physical illness may need to step down, if that illness adversely impacts their ability to fulfil their role.

Comment

As a Private Members Bill there is no guarantee this Bill will make it onto the statute book, a date for the committee stage of the Bill has yet to be set. But, if the Bill is passed, employers will need to review and if required revise their senior executive contracts and ensure that they deal with company directors who become ill with mental health issues fairly.

More information about the passage of the Bill is available on the Parliament website.