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Can I Be Fired For My Mental Illness?


43.8 million. That’s how many adults experience mental illness in a given year. And, yet, so many people do not seek out the help they need. While there a number of reasons why this is the case, one of the more common misconceptions is that your employer will fire you over your mental health.

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA), you are protected from discrimination is you exhibit any of the following:

  • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as walking or taking care of yourself;

  • a history of such impairment;

  • or being regarded as, having such an impairment.

But, let’s go over the fine print.

Is depression considered a disability under the ADA?

It depends. "Conditions that involve some type of depression are often characterized as mood disorders," says Beth Loy, Ph.D., principal consultant at the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). These include depression, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, and personality disorder, and "they may be covered by the ADA if the person meets the definition of disability."

"For a disability to trigger the protections of the ADA, it needs to affect a 'major life activity,’” explains Elizabeth Chen, a senior staff attorney with A Better Balance. The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) has published a non-exhaustive list of those activities if you want to learn more.

However, since depression "doesn't always trigger those limitations for all people, you will need documentation, such as medical proof, adds Chen.

Do I have to tell my employer?

You are not obligated to. But, in order for the ADA to protect you, you will have this discussion. If you have an HR department, you may be able to talk to them instead of telling your boss.

While this can be uncomfortable, keep in mind that your employer must keep your medical information private. They may also provide support, such as reasonable accommodations. For example, they may offer flexible work schedules so that you can attend therapy or changing work locations.

Again, the main benefit of telling your employer though is that it prevents you from getting fired, overlooked for a promotion, or treated differently. Also, if you must enter a rehab facility or inpatient care, the ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act can also protect you from losing your job.

Are the exceptions?

Yes.

Even if you have a disability, “you must still be able to perform the essential functions of the job and not pose a substantial risk of harm to yourself or other employees,” states Tom Spiggle, founder of Spiggle Law. “If you can’t meet both of these conditions, an employer would be well within its rights to fire you.”

Also, your accommodations must be reasonable. “Typical accommodations that are considered reasonable for employees suffering from mental health issues include modifying work schedules, changing management methods, creating a quiet office space, reassigning an employee to a different location or assignment, and providing leave,” explains Spiggle.

However, accommodations may be deemed “unreasonable” if they don’t adhere to workplace or state polices, such as excessive absenteeism or not being able to perform your work responsibilities.

I got fired. What do I do now?

Seek out legal representation or contact your local field office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Additional resources:

https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/mental_health.cfm

https://www.verywellmind.com/the-ada-and-depression-know-your-rights-1065229

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/with-a-job

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