The fact that you’re taking medication for a mental illness at work shouldn’t limit your ability to keep a job. If you’re taking medication, and your employer decides to single you out for it, you may have grounds to take legal action. Disabilities like mental health issues are protected under federal law and should never be the reason an employee is fired.
Key laws regarding federal disability discrimination issues include the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is a crucial resource for employees facing disability discrimination at work.
Getting to Know the ADA and Title VII
The unfortunate truth is that a number of employers across the nation may harbor illegitimate biases and stereotypes about mental illness. When employers allow these biases to guide and determine employment decisions, they could be crossing the line into illegal violations of federal law designed to protect the rights of employees.
According to Title VII, hiring decisions based on disability alone are illegal. This is also reiterated in the Americans With Disabilities Act which further expounds on the rights of disabled workers.
Under the ADA, workers with disabilities must be treated the same as other employees if they are able to perform the essential functions of the job. This means that your employer cannot treat you differently based on the fact that you take medication for a mental illness if that mental illness qualifies as a disability under the ADA.
The ADA defines a disability as a person with a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities. Having a record of such an impairment would also suffice as a disability according to the ADA. Even if the worker is only regarded as physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits life activities, this may still qualify as a disability under the act.
Thus, when an employer decides to fire an employee after discovering that he or she is taking medication for a mental illness, that employer is violating several forms of federal law regarding employment discrimination.
State Law Protection Against Disability Discrimination
States, too, have each have their own way of addressing disability discrimination. Almost every state protects workers from discrimination in employment decisions that arise from biases and stereotypes about disability.
The main difference between state and federal protection is that state law often reaches a greater number of companies due to lower coverage limits. Federal law covers companies with 15 or more workers whereas many state laws cover companies with as few as five employees.
While each state differs in the exact wording of its disability discrimination laws, most states do address a worker’s right to avoid termination simply based on disability and disability-related conditions.
In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the law that extends workers protection against many forms of workplace discrimination, including disability discrimination. Its provisions state that workers can be legally remedied for discrimination when an employer is aware of a disability or a record of the disability and fires that employee even though the employee is able to perform the essential duties of the job.
Filing a Claim with the EEOC
Once you discover a violation of federal or state employment discrimination law, the next step is to file a claim with the EEOC. A qualified employment discrimination attorney can assist with the charge application which the EEO office will review for initial intake.
Specifically the EEOC is looking for instances of clear violations of federal or state law. Application for EEOC review must be filed in a timely manner – usually 180 days after the day of the alleged incident of discrimination for federal law claims, or 300 days for state law claims.
If the EEOC decides to represent the case in the court, the employee could receive both compensatory and punitive damages. These could include back pay and reinstatement.
If the EEOC does not decide to represent the case in court, the employee will receive a Notice of the Right Sue allowing the employee and her attorney to take the case to court.
Working with Your Attorney To Establish a Case
When working with your attorney to establish a case for disability discrimination it’s important to take a number of issues into consideration. First, employees must know and understand that disability discrimination claims involve proving certain elements of law in court.
Under the ADA, employees must show the following:
- The employee’s disability is a disability as defined in the ADA.
- The employee is able to perform the essential duties of her job with or without accommodations.
- The employer has made an adverse decision due to an act or admission based on knowledge of the disability.
An employment rights attorney can be of invaluable assistance in establishing these essential elements. Once these are adequately asserted, the burden shifts to the defense to rebut the presumption that discrimination has occurred.
Taking Medication for Mental Illness Doesn’t Have to End Your Career
If you’ve been fired merely for taking medication while at work for a mental illness, you may have a strong case for disability discrimination. Federal law prohibits disability discrimination in companies with 15 or more employees, and state law applies to companies with as few as five employees. Your disability may qualify for protection under the ADA or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In addition, your state’s disability discrimination statute may also lead to suitable legal remedies.
The advice of an experienced attorney, well-versed in disability discrimination law, can be invaluable when your career is on the line. For help filing an EEOC claim, and to learn about your best legal options, consult with an employment rights attorney at Shegerian & Associates today.