The United States of America is the land of the free, of opportunity, home of the brave, and a country that  is know to uphold its constitution. The country’s law protects its people from workplace prejudice, especially those with mental illness. These types of laws make the USA one of the greatest nations on earth.

Are you experiencing a mental health decline and want to know if it will affect your employment? Keep reading, and you will find the answers in this post. Know that you are protected against workplace discrimination, and having a mental illness will not cost you your job.

What Are Mental Health Conditions?

A mental health condition is characterized as a health condition that involves changes in thinking, emotion, behavior, or a combination of three. Mental health conditions are associated with problems or distress affecting any major life activity. They could affect functioning at home, in the community, in social relationships, or even at the workplace.

Examples of mental health conditions are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Major depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Personality disorders
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Eating disorders
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Mood disorders

Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a person diagnosed with a mental health condition or physical disability that limits major life activities or body function is eligible to receive benefits and should be protected against workplace discrimination.

Important Questions About an Employee’s Mental State

How do employers determine the state of their employee’s mental health? The ADA does not have a stringent list of mental health conditions that covers the employee’s rights. Instead, the it encourages how the employer looks at a mental health condition that affects the employee.

Two essential questions should be answered on when to classify a disability:

  • Does the condition affect one or several major life activities of the person?
  • Does the impairment affect one or more major bodily functions?

If the answer to one of those questions is yes, then it is classified as a disability. Most, though not all, mental illnesses can impair a person’s ability to function well. It may affect thinking, concentration, sleep, communication, and thoughts of oneself.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects employees against workplace discrimination and harassment, especially when it comes to mental health issues. The ADA defines disabilities as any one of the following:

  • Impairment on a physical or mental state that limits a major life activity. Examples of which are walking, lifting, eating, thinking, concentration, sleeping, taking care of oneself, regulating emotions, and communicating with others
  • Having a previous diagnosis or history of a mental health illness or an impairment
  • Regarded for having an impairment

Despite a disability, an employee should still have the qualifications required to fulfill the job, such as the necessary skills, educational requirements, and experience. These should be evaluated during the hiring process.

Why Your Employer Can’t Fire You Because of a Mental Health Condition

Here is the straightforward answer regarding this issue: it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee because of a mental health condition. It is unlawful for a company to discriminate against a physical disability or mental health condition. An employer cannot fire, reject promotion, or force an employee to take a leave of absence.

The employer is not required to hire or retain people who can’t perform the job or those who directly impose a threat (i.e., a threat to themself or others around them). But employers should not stereotype and believe in the stigma surrounding mental health issues when hiring, retaining, or promoting employees.

For instance, a person recovering from substance abuse disorder should not be suspected of staying out late at night drinking and reporting to work hungover in the morning. This is a stereotype that should be avoided in the workplace.

The employer must have objective and substantial evidence that a person cannot perform a job well. Any employee with a mental disability should be offered a reasonable accommodation, not fired.

Are Employees Allowed to Keep Their Mental Health Condition  Private?

Yes, employees are allowed to keep in private a mental health condition they’re experiencing. Employers are only allowed to ask medical and mental health questions during these five situations:

  • When the employee requests a reasonable accommodation
  • When the employee was given the job offer, but before the hiring date. Employers are allowed to assess a person’s mental health, as long as this is part of the pre-employment process of the human resources for all aspiring applicants. This is according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Check this link for more information.
  • When it is a workplace initiative to track the mental health of all employees. However, the employee has the right to respond or not to respond to the query.
  • When the company has objective and substantial evidence that the employee cannot perform well or imposes safety risk because of their condition
  • If the employee wants to discuss their condition to receive the eligibility for health care benefits and company considerations under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

If the employee chooses to disclose their mental state, the employer could not discriminate, and the information should be kept confidential even from other persons at work. But this could not be the grounds to get fired.

If You Feel That Your Mental Illness Is Affecting Your Job Performance

Under the Americans with Disability Act, if the mental state of an employee is affecting their job performance, the employee can request a reasonable accommodation. Also, under the FMLA, employees can go on leave for a “mental health day off.”

Some states even have additional laws to extend support to those who experienced domestic violence and substance abuse. However, before asking for a reasonable accommodation, the employee should disclose their mental health issues to the employer.

This is so the employer can make other arrangements like taking some time off a week, having an indefinite leave, or work from home arrangements.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations, and What Is the Process Like?

A reasonable accommodation is an official term used under the Americans with Disability Act. This requires employers to make significant changes to the workplace to accommodate the needs of employees with physical disabilities or mental health conditions. This is to ensure they effectively perform their job and be at a level with non-disabled workers.

The employer must grant reasonable accommodation pertinent to the case of the employee involved. For instance, a person with hearing impairment may have different accommodation needs than someone with depression. If you plan to request a reasonable accommodation, you need to get familiarized with the examples:

  • Take the time or day off to go to therapy or counseling
  • Flexible schedule so the employee can complete the tasks at a time they feel the best working
  • Work from home arrangements caused by social anxiety or stress due to commuting to work
  • Part-time work or shorter hours to cater to a child or family member who has a mental illness
  • Unpaid leave to join a treatment program such as substance abuse programs or in-patient psychiatric programs
  • A silent work location to avoid distractions for people experiencing depression, PTSD, or anxiety
  • A clean workplace for an employee with obsessive-compulsive disorder

How to Obtain a Reasonable Accommodation

Do you need to request a reasonable accommodation? You need to know the process. The first is to let your supervisor or human resources know. Your HR personnel will likely let you fill out a reasonable accommodation request form. Other companies will let you send an email or letter to HR expressing your concerns or explaining your situation.

Just a heads up, there may be other companies that are not aware of the ADA and the reasonable accommodation. If that’s the case, you can educate them about your condition, rights as an employee, and your request. It helps if you send them a link or print out a copy of the ADA and highlight the portion that’s pertinent to your situation. In case you need the complete information about ADA and samples of reasonable accommodations, click this link.

The request should be considered but may not be fully granted depending on the company’s situation. For instance, taking time off from work for a month to go to rehab may significantly affect the business.

This can always be discussed, and the employer and employee can meet halfway or make other arrangements. For example, the employee can attend a nearby Alcoholics Anonymous session or shorten the rehab to two weeks instead of one month, depending on the situation.

I Was Fired Because of My Illness. What Should I Do?

If you think you were wrongfully terminated because of your mental health, with no objective reason, that is a clear case of discrimination. At this point, assert your rights by submitting a claim to the local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office. You can also call a lawyer and consult if you can file for wrongful termination.

A Final Note

Now that you’re aware of your rights, you should feel at peace, not worrying about your job because of a mental health problem. If you think you need help and need someone to talk to, book an appointment with a therapist or counselor at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC).

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