Mental Illness and the Workplace: Is Your Employer ADA Compliant?

Businesses cannot discriminate based on mental illness.Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (also known as the ADA) ensures workers with disabilities are granted equal opportunities. The ADA, which covers both private and public employers, prohibits discrimination against workers with disabilities.

However, this only applies to employers with more than 15 workers. For state and local government jobs, discrimination is forbidden regardless of the number of employees. What does the ADA consider a disability? As defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits life activities.

What do we mean by discrimination? It can vary depending on the circumstances. For example, an employer may find out an employee is disabled and then deny that employee promotions or terminate the position.

An employer may discover an employee has a disability, but deny reasonable accommodations. A hypothetical scenario can provide an illustrative example of what discrimination against disabled workers entails.

Logan is a war veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental illness that is considered a disability. After returning stateside, he finds a job making sales calls for a major tech company. Two weeks into his employment, his employer discovers he has PTSD and calls him into a private meeting.

Logan is told he is bothering his coworkers by making them uncomfortable, and that he will be moved to a relatively empty area of the building. This isolation continues for three weeks, and judging by emails between Logan and his supervisors, it is abundantly clear they are uncomfortable with his mental illness. Two weeks later, Logan is fired despite being qualified for his job; however, not before Logan has recorded evidence of everything that occurred.

What Rights Do Employees with Mental Illnesses Have Under the ADA?

Where did this hypothetical employer go wrong? Logan’s employer did not provide reasonable accommodations once becoming aware of his condition and clearly discriminated against him. Depending on the circumstances, reasonable accommodations would include allowing Logan to make regular doctor’s visits, so long as it did not cause hardships for his employer.

His employer also mistreated him by moving him to an isolated area of the building and firing him based on his diagnosis of PTSD. Depending on the nature of the evidence Logan collected, he would be wise to file a complaint with the EEOC and contact an employment law attorney. Employers who discriminate against workers with disabilities need to be held accountable for their actions.



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