Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part IV: Your Employer

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Credit to flickr.com user Franklin Hunting. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

[ Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]

You know how and when to disclose your mental illness, and even if to disclose to family and friends. But what about your employer? Read on to learn how to protect yourself.

When choosing to disclose a mental illness at work, there are several factors to consider. You might face stigma from your coworkers–or worse, your bosses. Those you work with might not understand, or even want to understand, your daily struggle. However, with disclosure might come special accommodations–like extra breaks–which are part of your civil rights. There are certain protections available to you.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a protection that you should be familiar with. The ADA is just like it sounds like: a federal law that protects Americans with disabilities at private employers with more than fifteen employees, as well as state and government employers. There are two conditions you must meet for the act to apply:

  1. Your disability impairs your life, essentially making working difficult. This condition applies to difficulties with regulating emotion, concentrating, and other ways your mental illness interferes with your ability to work.
  2. That, while your illness makes working difficult, you can get the work done.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act)

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or Rehab Act, is a federal law very similar to the ADA that applies to schools. Any agency that receives government funding is covered under the Rehab Act.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a useful law that helps people keep their jobs while taking an extended leave of absence. The FMLA only applies to companies with over fifty employees, and after you have worked for the company for a year minimum. The FMLA lets you take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member or recover from an illness yourself.

States also have their own protections for Americans with disabilities.

What Accommodations Can I Receive? How?

Under these laws, you can receive special accommodations: working from home, flexible start times, written directions, feedback from your bosses and coworkers, more breaks, and quiet places to take those breaks. These changes to the workplace are intended to be an aid for you so that you can complete your tasks.

But how do you apply for these accommodations? The process isn’t difficult, but the onus is on you to ask. Once you do, your employer is mandated to talk with you.

  • First, contact the human resources (HR) department and ask them what channels you need to go through to apply.
  • Write down your request. Be very specific as to what accommodations you need, and explain to HR how these will help you in the workplace.
  • Talk with your treatment team–therapists and psychiatrists–to see if they can offer any proof that you suffer from a mental illness.
  • Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
  • Be reasonable and flexible. Your strongest advocate is you, so be prepared to negotiate.

 Discrimination

What if you’ve been discriminated against because you suffer from a mental illness? There are legal protections available for you:

  • If the employer is a private one covered by the ADA, then you have to reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, www.eeoc.gov.
  • If, however, the employer is a federal agency, like a school or governmental employer, then you must reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, federal division.
  • States have protections as well. If you’ve been discriminated against despite these laws, look up your state’s Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA).
  • The Department of Labor manages the FMLA. If you’ve been denied your legal right to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, then contact them.

There are several protections available to you should you choose to disclose your mental illness to your employer. Whether or not you should is completely up to you. As we said, you might face stigma from your coworkers or bosses, but if you’ve been discriminated against, you can file complaints. You have a right to accommodations. All you have to do is take that step forward.

Good luck!

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0 thoughts on “Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part IV: Your Employer”

  1. My heart really goes out to anyone who works at a non-MI-welcoming place – and let’s face it, there are very few employers who do a good job of treating their staff with mental illness with empathy and respect. 🙁 H

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