More than 5.5 million Californian adults have a mental health condition. While it’s always been something people feel embarrassed by or feel the need to hide, one in five adults in the U.S. have a mental health condition. You shouldn’t be ashamed that you have a mental health condition.
Anxiety disorders are the most common and affect 48 million Americans. Depression is the second most common with 21 million people diagnosed with it. You’re not alone. Speak up, and you’ll likely find there are others in the workplace who are impacted by at least one mental health condition. It’s also important to understand that mental health cannot lead to discrimination in the workplace.
What are your workplace rights when it comes to mental health conditions? You suffer from an anxiety disorder, depression, OCD, or PTSD and it makes it hard to focus at work at times. Your boss is starting to make comments. What are your rights?
In California, as long as your employer has more than 15 employees or is a state or local government office, you’re protected by federal laws and FMLA can also help you seek the care you need and the time off to get that care.
Understanding Your Rights in Terms of the Americans With Disabilities Act
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Americans With Disabilities Act protects you from discrimination and harassment in the workplace when it comes to mental health conditions. You cannot be fired, denied a job or promotion, or forced to quit or take a leave of absence.
For example, you have been diagnosed with depression and chronic anxiety. Your boss says that makes you a threat to others and fires you. You’ve never done anything to harm others. Unless there is clear proof that you’re endangering others, that termination was not legal.
Plus, you’re entitled to reasonable accommodations first. If you just need 10 minutes to walk around outside to ease stress, that’s a reasonable request. If you’re denied that request without an understandable explanation, you’re not being offered reasonable accommodations.
Your mental health is not water cooler gossip, and you don’t have to tell others if you don’t want to. You are allowed to keep your health condition to yourself and are under no obligation to tell others, except in limited situations.
- You’ve asked for a reasonable accommodation in the workplace.
- You’ve been offered a job and questions about mental health are asked of everyone working for the company.
- There’s evidence something related to your mental health condition is preventing you from properly doing your job or you’ve become a safety risk to other employees.
- Your employer tracks disability statuses for recruitment and hiring records.
- You’re entering a public sector job.
How Do Reasonable Accommodations Work?
What if your mental health is impacting your work? You should quit, right? Not necessarily! You need to talk to your supervisor and explain what’s going on. Ask for accommodations to be made.
You’ll be directed to write an official request. You may need a letter from your doctor proving you have the condition you’ve described. Once that paperwork is in hand, your employer has to work with you to change how or where you work. Keep track of all communications and respond as quickly as you can to requests for medical forms and other pertinent information.
If you need extra time off during your lunch hour for sessions with a mental health specialist, you have to be provided with that time off. You might be able to come in early to make up the time or leave a little later. You may need a quiet office where people won’t constantly interrupt you or create loud sounds that trigger your anxiety, that’s another example of a possible accommodation that your employer can make for you.
Suppose you take anxiety medications every day. The pills your doctor prescribed have to be taken four times a day. You should be given a break to take those medications and get the drink you need from the break room or cafeteria to be able to take them.
If your job is something you can do on your own without being in the office, working from home could be a suitable alternative. Should a quiet setting work best for you, coming in and working in the early morning or late evening may be ideal. You might find it helps you relax if music is playing through noise-canceling headphones or you turn off the lights and work in natural lighting, all of those are examples of reasonable accommodations.
What If You Still Can’t Work?
What if you’ve requested a reasonable accommodation be made, but you still can’t do your job? You may have to switch to a different department or role if there is an opening and it’s something you are qualified to do. If that’s still not an option, don’t give up hope. If you qualify for FMLA, you’ll have up to 12 weeks to seek care that helps you get your mental health condition under control. Treatments can be extremely effective and have been found to help an average of eight out of ten people who seek psychosocial treatments, prescription medications, or a mix of the two.
Do you qualify? If you’ve worked at least 1,250 hours and for at least 12 months, you should qualify. But there are rules when it comes to FMLA mental health leave. You must be in a program that requires inpatient care in a hospital or facility or continuing treatment with a doctor that will take more than three consecutive days and require multiple appointments with health care providers and therapists.
When Should You Seek Legal Intervention?
If you do take FMLA, your employer cannot retaliate or refuse to allow you to have the time off. If your employer is threatening to remove you from your job if you take a leave of absence for your mental health, it’s a violation of your rights. You can file a complaint with the EEOC, reach out to the State Fair Employment Practice Agency, or contact a California employment law attorney. Denials of FMLA should be directed to a California attorney or the Department of Labor.
Try not to wait too long. There are statutes of limitations that determine how long you have to file a complaint. If you delay too long, you could run out of time. Plus, the longer you wait, the hazier your memories are. Take good notes of what your employer said, keep records of any emails, and file a complaint as quickly as you can.
Managing the difficulties that mental health conditions can cause is hard enough. If you feel your employer is not treating you fairly, threatening you for seeking the help you need, or refusing to accommodate your requests, contact an attorney who specializes in workplace discrimination cases.
Shegerian Conniff specializes in workplace rights. Reach us for a free consultation to learn more about your rights when it comes to fair treatment in the workplace. We’ll help you determine if you have a valid complaint and what the next steps are in your complaint.