Employees who suffer from mental illness have certain legal rights and protections in the workplace. For example, federal and state laws protect employees with disabilities, including mental-health disabilities, from discrimination at work. Additionally, employees with mental illness may obtain reasonable accommodations at work, and leaves of absence under state and federal FMLA.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law, prohibits employers from treating applicants or employees unfavorably due to a disability, including mental-health disability. Additionally, the law requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. Under ADA, a “disability is an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.” It should be noted that mental illness qualifies as a disability under ADA. Meanwhile, a “reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that would allow a person to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.”
According to the EEOC, reasonable accommodations may include:
- Altered break and work schedules
- Quiet office space or devices that create a quiet work environment
- Changes in supervisory methods, specific shift assignments
- Permission to work from home
You may obtain a reasonable accommodation for any mental health condition that, if left untreated, would “substantially limit” your ability to do one or more of the following:
- Interact with others
- Care for yourself
- Regulate your thoughts or emotions
- Any other “major life activity.”
However, the accommodation must not eliminate an essential function or your job or be unduly burdensome. In other words, if you can’t do the job even with an accommodation, or if the accommodation is to not work at all, it is probably not a “reasonable accommodation.” Nevertheless, if you can’t perform all the essential functions of your job to normal standards and have no paid leave available, you may still qualify for unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation if that leave will allow you to perform those functions when you return. Additionally, if you are permanently unable to perform your regular job, you may ask your employer to reassign you to a job that you can do, if one is available.
How to Obtain a Reasonable Accommodation
If you need a reasonable accommodation, ask a supervisor or your HR manager. You should request a reasonable accommodation before any problems occur or become worse. However, if you request an accommodation before you receive a job offer, you may not be able to prove discrimination.
Federal Family and Medical Leave Act
You may qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if you are unable to work due to your mental illness. Under federal FMLA, employers must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period.
Federal FMLA covers private employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and local education agencies. In order to qualify, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutively). Moreover, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months preceding leave. Federal FMLA permits eligible employees to take leave on an intermittent basis or to work a reduced schedule under certain circumstances.
Connecticut state law also prohibits your employer from discriminating against you on the basis of your mental disability. This includes firing you, rejecting you for a job or promotion, or forcing you to take leave. “Mental disability” under Connecticut law refers to an individual who has a record of having one or more mental disorders, or is regarding as having one or more mental disorders defined by the American Psychiatric Association. Covered employers include all private and public-sector entities that employ three or more individuals. Covered employers must provide mentally disabled employees with reasonable accommodations in the workplace. This protection does not apply, however, if your disability prevents you from meeting a bona fide occupational qualification or need (BFOQ).
Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act
The Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act also gives eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period. Connecticut FMLA covers private employers with 75 or more employees, except private or parochial schools. Connecticut FMLA permits eligible employees to take leave on an intermittent basis or to work a reduced schedule under certain circumstances. However, if you are an employee of a state agency, a separate statutes with similar provisions will apply.
Where to File a Discrimination Complaint
If you are a victim of discrimination based on your mental illness, you may:
- File a discrimination complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (see https://www.state.ct.us/chro)
- File a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if your employer is covered by the ADA. Note: if your employer is a federal government agency, you must file your complaint with the EEOC. (see http://www.eeoc.gov)
- File a complaint with the US Department of Labor for federal FMLA violations (see https://www.dol.gov)
- File a complaint with the CT Department of Labor for state FMLA violations (see https://www.ctdol.state.ct.us)