Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Mental Illness’

Mental disabilities merit reasonable accommodation

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

The many myths and stigmas surrounding mental illness create barriers in the workplace. Employees with mental disabilities may be hesitant to disclose their struggles or ask for accommodations, and for good reason. Employers often refuse “special treatment” or even retaliate against the person.

If you are a federal employee with a mental or intellectual disability, you have rights. Your agency is required to make the reasonable accommodations you need to do your job and excel in your federal service career. What might that look like?

The law on disclosure and accommodation

Job candidates are not required to disclose a mental disability (or any disability) in the hiring process. You cannot be fired, demoted, reprimanded or taken out of consideration for job postings if your condition is later disclosed or discovered.

The ADA National Network says that a psychiatric disability should not be an issue unless your condition affects your ability to do perform your duties. Your agency is legally bound to accommodate you if you develop a disabling mental condition in the course of employment, if your pre-existing disability worsens, or if your duties change in a way that your disability interferes with your job.

What does “reasonable accommodation” look like?

The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability. The ADA specifically requires employers, including federal agencies and federal contractors, to make reasonable accommodations.

For mental disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic/anxiety disorder, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, accommodations might include:

  • Allowing the employee to work from home
  • Allowing the employee to skip face-to-face meetings
  • A quieter work station or white noise earphones
  • Flexible scheduling for medical appointments
  • Temporary part-time status until the condition stabilizes
  • More frequent work breaks
  • Supervision by a different manager

The accommodation should be tailored to the employee and their limiting condition, and not merely dictated as a take-it-or-leave-it.

When the agency balks or pushes back

Some employers feel blindsided or betrayed when a disability comes to light. They might give a negative performance review or create a hostile working environment to force you to quit. They might flatly refuse the specific accommodation or refuse to engage in an interactive process to reach a viable solution. All of these responses violate the ADA. If this happens, it is time to consult legal counsel.

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on October 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Mental Health and the Workplace: How Can We Change the Stigma?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

AuthorProfile (1)I suffer from depression and anxiety.

In our constantly-moving world, this is not uncommon.

However, it is rarely acceptable to discuss.

When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was a young working 20 year old in college. The depressive episode had hit me pretty hard and – being in a retail business where customer service was of the utmost importance – it was increasingly difficult to appear “happy” at my job.

Smiling was difficult, staying motivated was difficult, and interacting with customers was almost impossible. I was also commonly late to work, as getting ready and motivated was an increasingly unobtainable outcome.

After a few weeks of a noticeably sullen mood shift, my manager called me into her office. Instead of doing the right thing and asking me if I needed a vacation or a moment away from customers, she told me to “smile” and just keep working.

“My husband suffered from mild depression once,” she informed me, “so I know how difficult depression can be. Still, you need to smile at customers. I never see you smile anymore. If you don’t improve we will have to re-evaluate your performance here.”

Later, this same manager threatened to fire me when my other chronic health issues caused me to be hospitalized for a couple of days. If I had been aware of the laws surrounding the Americans with Disability Act, there’s no doubt I would have filed a complaint. Sadly, I was too young to be aware of them, and I ended up quitting a month later to focus on my schooling.

I did eventually get pills to help with my depression, but they were only a temporary fix. To this day I don’t medicate for the illness, as it is situational. It does rear its ugly head from time to time, but I have decided to treat it without mentally altering medications. It is a condition I am aware of and can prepare for, but I still struggle bringing it up at work.

Stigma around mental health seems to be a constant presence in my life. From people commonly describing the weather as “bi-polar,” to news stories focused around another mass shooting and the role that mental health plays in gun rights; I can never seem to escape the reminder that our society finds mental illness unacceptable.

These stigmas – plus the way I was treated at my job when I was 20 – has caused me to bottle up my condition in the workplace. “If they don’t see it and if I don’t mention it; then my job will be secure,” I think to myself. However, bottling up my condition can lead to more anxiety and distrust with my employer. I shouldn’t feel like I need to hide something that can affect my life so heavily.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about one in five Americans suffer from mental illnesses every year. The most common ailment to affect the brain is anxiety (about 18.1% of Americans suffer from it), closely followed by depression and other mood disorders. Considering mental illness is so prominent in our society, one would assume that our level of acceptance and understanding was much higher than the reality. Sadly, it wasn’t until recently (with the addition of the Affordable Care Act) that mental illness treatment was even seen as a necessity.

According to Bradley University’s Counseling Program, mental illness can have serious physical effects on the body as well. Depression alone can increase a person’s chances of contracting heart disease or cancer by over 50%, and over-exposure to chronic stress is directly correlated to increased risks of heart attacks.

What does this mean for mental health in the workplace?

We, the employees and those in management, need to break the stigma and talk about our mental state comfortably with our superiors. Our superiors, in turn, should be able to understand the best ways to mitigate stress and anxiety, and not discriminate against employees that struggle with mental health conditions. As Wake Forest University explains, stigma can originate inside ourselves, and the first step to conquering the problem is talking openly about our condition with others.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), mental health issues can qualify as “psychiatric disabilities” that may hamper “one or more major life activity.” NAMI has also provided a helpful handout for any employees that struggle with mental illness and want to know their rights. Legally, most mental illness sufferers fall under the protection of the ADA.

Learn your rights, and do your part to end the stigmas surrounding mental illness. Hopefully over time, we can reverse discriminatory practices in the workplace and bring about a more mentally-healthy future.

Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. When she’s not writing about millennials or small businesses, she spends her free time training her dog Toby to herd her three annoying (but adorable) cats around her house. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.

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