Mental Health and Employment: Knowing Your Rights Can Help You Get Treatment

Julia’s depression crept in slowly, first pulling her away from her friends. The drive for having social experiences vanished and the things that used to bring her joy no longer brought her pleasure. But it was only when the depression began disrupting her ability to function at work that Julia started to panic. Work had always been the area where she excelled, and suddenly she was struggling to keep up with the high-pressure demands of her employer. She knew she needed treatment, but the psychiatrists she contacted only had appointments that conflicted with her work schedule and she was terrified that taking time off for medical appointments would get her fired. She dreamed of cutting back to part-time hours to allow her some room to breathe, get treatment, and get well, but she feared that her boss would force her to disclose her mental health disorder and the stigma of psychological illness would cloud her professional reputation.

Julia’s concerns are common, but they are also largely unfounded. Knowing your rights can empower you to get the help you need without worrying that it will interfere with your employment, and can help you modify your work environment to support emotional well-being. There are federal regulations in place that ensure you have protections that allow you to attend to your psychological needs without compromising your job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into federal law in 1990 to protect the rights of people living with disabilities.[1. http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/ada.htm] These regulations prohibit employment discrimination against people with mental health disorders and clearly define your right to reasonable accommodation. The ADA makes it illegal for an employer to ask about your health status in interviews, and if they do become aware of your psychiatric illness, this act prohibits them disqualifying you from being hired assuming you meet the qualifications for the position. Once you are hired, you are also entitled to accommodations that allow you to perform the tasks associated with your job while taking your mental health needs into account. Asking for accommodation requires you to disclose that you have a disability, and your employer may require documentation from your doctor supporting your accommodation requests, but you are not required to tell your employer the nature of your disability. In other words, if you do not feel comfortable telling your boss or HR that you have a mental health disorder, you don’t have to.

Reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Providing flexible work hours to accommodate the effects of medication or to work around doctor’s appointments.
  • Granting paid or unpaid leave when your disability interferes with your ability to work.
  • Offering more frequent breaks.
  • Assigning a supportive supervisor who can provide instructions and feedback in a way that enhances your ability to work.
  • Modifying job duties.
  • Allowing you to work from home.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

Sometimes the symptoms and treatment of mental health disorders require extensive time away from work, leaving many people fearing for the security of their jobs and adding stress to an already emotionally vulnerable time. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal labor rights provision that guarantees many employees the right to 12 weeks’ leave with continued health care benefits when they are unable to work due to a serious health condition, including psychiatric illnesses.[2. http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/1421.htm] You are also granted the right to return–you cannot be fired during this leave. Your employer may require documentation from your doctor confirming that you suffer from a serious health condition, but they cannot ask for your medical records and you cannot be compelled to disclose your diagnosis. While this time away from work is unpaid, you may choose to use accrued paid leave to cover a portion or the entirety of your FMLA leave. Upon return to work, you are entitled to go back to your previous job or a job that is equivalent in terms of pay and benefits. Additionally, your time away cannot be used against you in employee evaluations and does not count towards your attendance record.

Making Your Time Count

Maximizing your leave from work can allow you the time needed for intensive residential treatment where you can fully focus on recovery. An immersive treatment environment can provide more treatment in six weeks than is possible in over a year of outpatient care, allowing you to quickly regain control of your life and find the emotional stability to return to life and work with renewed joy. Work accommodations may be part of aftercare planning to ensure successful transition back to employment, optimizing your chances of continued success.

 

Bridges to Recovery provides cutting-edge treatment for people living with mental health disorders in beautiful, relaxing surroundings. Contact us to find out more about how our program can help you or your loved one.