Mental illness is a touchy subject. Those with mental disabilities are often sidelined from employment opportunities. For some people, the mental illness diagnosis itself is the hard part. Some people deal with mental illness their entire life.
Others, however, do not find out that something is different until they reach adulthood and start working.
In either case, disclosing a mental illness is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Studies have shown that America’s collective mental health is worsening.
Although studies have shown that 1 in 5 people suffer from mental health illness every year, that does mean that that stigma has lessened.
With all that said, disclosing mental health issues at work is not a decision that you should take lightly. But you also shouldn’t panic, there are protections in place.
Protections Under the Law
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from termination based on a qualifying disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [internal] summarizes the law on its page stating that an employer cannot treat an employee or applicant with a disability differently because of that disability.
The ADA defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”
The ADA does not provide a definitive list of what qualifies as a disability. There are certain medical conditions that have already been recognized by law, including but not limited to:
- Major depressive disorder.
- Bipolar disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
If you have one of the above conditions, you are most likely covered. Even if your condition did not make the above list, you may still be covered. Either way, you should still, as always, consult a lawyer.
At the very least, a health care provider may be able to coach you on whether your mental illness is a disability under the ADA.
You do not Have to Disclose
You should know that you always have the option not to disclose. Your mental health is a part of your confidential medical records. And, more practically, if you are doing well at work, your company will never know.
But, if you do not disclose, you will forfeit ADA protections. The ADA provides certain job protections. When you disclose, your employer cannot retaliate against you.
Usually, this means that your employer won’t fire you for a period of time.
Further, you are entitled to ask for a reasonable accommodation. This might help you perform better at your job.
Do Employers Care About Mental Health?
Most employers care about mental health. The majority of companies go out of their way to make their support known.
This may be in the form of seminars, meetings, or presentations regarding mental health in the workplace.
Most companies now understand that diversity and inclusion amongst its workforce is a good thing for the company.
But there is another reason why companies care. They do not want to get sued.
Failure to accommodate a recognized disability can lead to a lawsuit under the ADA. Lawsuits are very expensive. And companies try to avoid them the best they can.
Disclosing Mental Health in an Interview
Perhaps you do not have a job. And you are now going on interviews. You may be wondering whether you should disclose your mental illness before your interview?
Your decision on whether to disclose here is deeply personal. You are protected under the law if you decide to disclose. But remember, you are not required to disclose your mental health disorder during the interview process.
Some people may want to disclose because it gives them a sense of empowerment. From the get-go, you are saying who you are loudly and proudly.
And again, your employer cannot legally fail to hire you because of a disability.
Further, your potential employer’s reaction to your disclosure will give you insight into how they will accommodate your illness on the job. This could be invaluable.
On the other hand, you may decide not to disclose. Technically, employers cannot discriminate. Yet employers are good at finding reasons not to hire.
It wasn’t because of her disability, her GPA was low. You get the idea. Further, you have more to lose than gain at the interview stage.
You can always interview, accept the job, then disclose after you get it. Ultimately, it’s your decision. You may want to consult an employment attorney.
Asking for a Reasonable Accommodation
You’ve made it through the interview process. At this point, you probably want to disclose. For one, your employer has to give you a reasonable accommodation and engage in an interactive process. This could mean a reduction in hours. Or it could mean less stressful projects.
There is an exception. If the reasonable accommodation is difficult or would be expensive, then the employer does not have to provide it.
In the case of mental health, you would be most likely asking for a reduction in stress or hours. Both of which are not difficult or expensive.
Also, disclosing protects you if you lose your job. If you don’t disclose, your employer can correctly say that they did not know you were disabled.
Therefore, they couldn’t have discriminated against you.
On the other hand, if you choose not to disclose, you won’t have to work with the stigma associated with mental health. You can perform your job. And, unlike physical disability, no one will know you’re different.
The problem, however, is that you won’t receive any slack. If you have a bad day because of depression, too bad. You might not be able to leave for psychiatry appointments. If no one knows, you receive no accommodation.
Disclosing a mental illness to your employer is not easy. It may take some strategy. And it certainly is something that you should think through carefully.
It’s never a bad idea to talk with an employment lawyer before making this decision. Some employment lawyers charge a reasonable fee on an hourly basis to answer employment questions.
This might seem like a lot of money to invest in advice. But your mental health is worth it. Take advantage of every protection that the law provides.