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POLICY & COVERAGE | Magnify Mental Health | Magnify Mental Health


Mental Health in the Workplace

Produced by: Rahmere Griffin

Many employers feel the need to have some mental health days off in order to maintain a good mental balance. 

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by congress. It was the first civil rights law passed that protected those with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace, public service, etc.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability to solidify legal protection for more groups of people -- more than 43 million individuals -- than the original Act did, this time including individuals with psychiatric disabilities.

There are two main rights that the Act protects for those living with a mental illness. The first is the right for an employee or job applicant to refuse disclosure of a mental illness to the employer.

Before you disclose a mental health condition to your company's HR department, here's what you should know:

The Act also provides the individual with the right to a job accommodation unless it causes “undue hardship” for the employer. According to the ADA’s website, undue hardship is "action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considering factors including the cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature and structure of the employer’s operation.”

If an individual does enforce their right to a job accommodation, they then waive their right to refuse disclosure from their employer. These accommodations are made via the Job Accommodation Network through the ADA.

Denise Johnston, the associate director of human resources at Cabrini University in Radnor, Pennsylvania, says that it is in the individual’s best interest to disclose any mental health problems to their employer because of these required accommodations.

“If [an employer] could help a person with mental health issues by making a slight change to their work schedule or their work environment or something, then the employers are pretty much required to make those accommodations as long as it isn't an undue hardship.”

The one scenario where the right to disclosure is theoretically taken away from an employee is, if upon being offered the job, the employer asks the individual to take a medical exam before their first day of work. If their test reveals a mental illness, the job could be withdrawn only if the individual couldn’t complete “essential functions of the job” without a reasonable accommodation. A person cannot be fired from their job because of a mental illness either for reasons other than an undue hardship or because of a real safety issue.

Unless the individual meets the criteria discussed above, it is against federal law for an employer to fire them for the sole reason that they have a disclosed mental illness. As Johnston explains, this rule does not apply for those who have not disclosed their mental illness with the employer previously.

“If the employee doesn't declare that they have a disability that requires accommodation Then the employer can only judge them on their performance,” Johnson said. “And so, if their performance is suffering because they need an accommodation that they haven't requested, the employer can't be held responsible for that.  You have to communicate.”

“But then, if the employer becomes aware that there's a need, they can talk to the employee and encourage them to request the accommodation that they need but we can't force them,” Johnston said.

Written by: John Williams


Cabrini University
  • Cabrini University

  • cabrinicomdept@gmail.com