Reluctance to Disclose
One of the biggest issues facing employees with mental health disabilities is the decision to disclose their mental illness or an employer. The risk is that an unsympathetic employer may proceed with discriminatory behavior or may begin to assess a workers performance differently and unfairly as a result.
Unfortunately, certain negative stigmas surround mental health disabilities, and employees may be reluctant to engage in disclosing in an effort to ward off destructive labels. Disclosing can cause stereotypes and biases about mental illness to unfairly cloud a supervisor’s or manager’s judgment or influence coworkers negatively if the information is not kept confidential.
Costs of Inaction
Still saying nothing does have its costs. Without fully disclosing a mental health disability, it may be hard to properly perform your job or assert your rights when disputes arise.
Requests for temporary leave, extended leave or other types of absences from work due to a disability all require disclosure. Using work-based employment insurance to cover the costs of medical bills and prescriptions associated with your mental health disability will also require disclosure.
Finally, making requests for accommodation at work requires letting your employer know of the type of accommodation and its purpose. It also invokes an interactive communication process between employee and employer to determine whether the accommodations can be provided without undue harm to business.
The decision about whether or not to disclose a mental health disability at work is an important one. Employees must balance the risks against the benefits and make a decision after carefully considering company ADA policy. It’s also important to keep in mind that revealing your mental health disability involves rights and legal protections that your employer is obligated to recognize.
Qualified as a Disability Under the ADA
In order to rely on the legal rights and protections of the ADA, an employee’s mental health issue must first qualify as a legal disability. This means that the ADA’s definition governs any debate on most situations involving mental health issues at work.
According to the ADA, an employee’s mental health issue must be an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The ADA defines a mental impairment as any psychological disorder including intellectual disability such as Down’s Syndrome. It also includes emotional and mental illness and specific learning disabilities.
The mental health issue must be more than just a slight impairment. According to the ADA, the issue must have a major effect on one’s life. This means it should have an effect on essential function like talking and writing. However, the worker must be able to perform the essential function of the job with or without accommodation. These factors are determined based on an individual assessment of the disability when disputes arise in court.
The ADA also applies if there is a record of an ADA impairment or an employer regards the employee as having an ADA impairment. It’s also important to note that the ADA only applies to covered entities. In terms of employers, this means companies that have at least 15 employees.
Your Rights and Your Employer’s Legal Responsibilities
Certain rights arise under the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when an employee has a true mental health disability. Employees should be prepared with a basic knowledge of their rights to fair and equal treatment under the law and also be prepared to discuss any controversial behavior at work with a qualified employment rights attorney for the best help.
Those with mental health disabilities do have the right to request accommodations. Under both the ADA and Title VIII, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation in support of your mental health disability unless doing so would cause undue hardship to business. Even if the employer determines that business would be harmed, he is further obligated to respond with alternative accommodations through an interactive communication process.
You also have rights to time off under the FMLA. Employees eligible for FMLA leave for medical and disability-related issues are allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This leave may be for treatment or recovery. However, it is important to note that the leave is provided for serious health conditions only.
Last but not least, both the ADA and Title VII require an employer to treat disabled workers equal to the way that non-disabled employees are treated. This means discrimination based on one’s mental health disability is a violation of federal, and in most cases, state, law. This includes the right to work free of harassment concerning your disability and free of retaliation should you report discrimination or participate in discrimination proceedings.
Taking Steps When Disputes Arise
When an employer refuses to follow the law on mental health disabilities, it may be time to approach your attorney about next steps. Bringing a formal charge involves an EEOC-led investigation and possible representation by the federal agency. If the EEOC decides to refrain from involvement in the case, an employee is free to proceed with the help of an attorney with a lawsuit in court.
Both federal and state claims are possible against employers who discriminate based on a mental health disability or who illegally refuse requests for accommodation. Both the EEOC and courts can help to resolve disputes with your employer regarding fair and equal treatment regardless of your mental health disability as well as disputes regarding leave and benefits. For help navigating through the dispute process, contact your attorney as soon as possible.