Mental Health Employment Discrimination

Mental health issues can result in employment discrimination by employers, managers, coworkers, and clients. Certain laws obligate employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with a disability. An employee may qualify for reasonable accommodation even if they are only perceived to have a disability.

Mental Health Employment Discrimination

Mental health employment discrimination challenges employees with an emotional or mental disability from progressing in their career. By law, it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee due to a disability. The law champions the rights of this legally protected class.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sets out to provide equal opportunities to all employees. One particular law that outlines legal repercussions and allowances for employees with disabilities is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These two bodies of legality do most of the brunt work to protect the rights of employees.

More recent years reveal that claims for mental health discrimination have risen. Mental health issues have always been present, but it is only in recent years where we have learned to better recognize this disability.

Mental health disabilities in the workplace are super common and yet misunderstood. Employers and employees alike can take certain steps to begin the change for how mental health should be handled. The workplace should be aware of the legal issues surrounding mental health and offer practical strategies to stay within ADA protections.

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Mental Illness vs. Psychiatric Disability

Mental illness and psychiatric disability are nearly interchangeable. However, the term “mental illness” is preferred by the medical field while “psychiatric disability” is used by the legal system. All in all, the idea is the same, involving your mental and emotional health.

ADA Protections for Mental Health Conditions

The ADA outlines workplace protections for men and women who deal with mental health conditions on a daily basis. These may include workplace privacy rights as well as reasonable accommodations to help you complete your job.

Does a Psychiatric Disability Receive Protections under the ADA?
The ADA has its own definition of “disability.” And, in 2008, the ADA was amended to protect more employees with disabilities from employment discrimination, including employees with a psychiatric disability. If the impairment majorly limits your life, you’re perceived to have an impairment, or you have a history of it, you may be eligible for ADA Protections.

What Does the ADA List as a Mental Impairment?
The ADA recognizes any mental impairment as a disorder that is emotional or mental. To help people recognize these disorders, the ADA lists examples of mental impairments.

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Panic disorder
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Major depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders

Do Employees Need to Tell a Manager about Their Disability?
An employee has the responsibility to notify the employer when they may require a reasonable accommodation for an invisible disability. However, if the employee has an obvious disability that is causing him difficulty in performing tasks, the employer should ask if the employee needs a reasonable accommodation.

How Much Do I Need to Tell My Employer about My Disability?
The ADA allows employees their privacy when it comes to their disability, even when they are seeking an accommodation. An employee is allowed to say as much or as little as he or she wants about the disability. However, the employer can request medical documentation of the disability, but they are not permitted to share it with anyone else.

ADA Legal Protections for the Worker

The ADA obligates employers to protect employees with disabilities from harassment, discrimination, or termination due to their disability. Employees with disabilities are entitled to their privacy unless asked to provide medical documentation in order to better provide a reasonable accommodation. The ADA allows employees to choose what they disclose if they choose to share. Employers need to be careful not to enact mental health employment discrimination against their employees.

Pre-work Health Exam

Some workplaces require candidates with a job offer to have a health exam conducted before they officially start work. If the exam results reveal a disability, an employer is legally bound to fulfill its job offer to the candidate. The only time the employer may be released from this promise is if the disability will interfere with essential functions of the job.

Reasonable Accommodation Request

An employee who seeks a reasonable accommodation for an invisible disability, which is often a mental impairment or psychiatric disability, may be asked for medical documentation. This is not illegal. An employer is permitted to request medical paperwork of the disability, but it must be remain private—not be shared with coworkers or managers. Sometimes employers use the information to track progress in providing reasonable accommodation. An employer also may not be able to offer a job accommodation because it causes too much strain on the company, also known as undue hardship.

Common Types of Reasonable Accommodation

Although the employer has the final word on the accommodation, the employee with the disability can provide ideas or suggestions for this decision. Employees should consider how their disability influences their work and what the main problems are. This will help ensure that their disability is accommodated appropriately.

  • Quiet work environment
  • Frequent breaks
  • Work from home
  • Flexible schedule for appointments
  • Reminders of tasks
  • White noise makers
  • Remote meeting attendance
  • Transfer departments
  • Swap job tasks

A Couple of Notes on Accommodations
Work leave as a reasonable accommodation for a disability should be the last resort. The goal of reasonable accommodation is to keep workers engaged in their work long term. However, sometimes leave is necessary until the disability stabilizes or is adequately cared for.

When it comes to work policy of the company, the reasonable accommodation cannot be a request for a change of policy. Company policy should be applied equally throughout the workplace. Workers with disabilities should not be treated differently than any other employee.

Sometimes a worker with a disability will request a transfer to work under another supervisor. The law does not obligate employers to change supervisors for an employee with a disability. However, an employer can require supervisors to alter their leadership style in conjunction with employees with disabilities.

Reasonable Accommodation Request: Your Employer’s Response

After you’ve spoken to your employer about a reasonable accommodation, it’s possible that they may request that you make a written request as well, outlining your disability and how it influences your work. You can share as little detail of the disability as you want, but it’s important for your employer to understand the problem. Your employer is obligated by the law to initiate a process to respond to your request.

Your Employer Asks for Medical Documentation

As you already know, your employer’s request for medical documentation is a legal request. You, in turn, can request that your medical provider explains your condition in general and broad terms in order to protect you from possible harassment. Your employer may also seek possible accommodation suggestions from your primary care provider.

Timely Response to Your Reasonable Accommodation Request

Sometimes, an employee makes a request for reasonable accommodation, but nothing occurs. Your employer does not initiate any consideration of your disability and request. Every employer has a different process. However, your employer should be taking steps to offer you a reasonable accommodation. To fail to do so may prompt a lawsuit.

Harassment for Your Disability

When a disability becomes apparent, some employees may face harassment. This can be anything from occasional remarks to offensive mimicking. Management-level employees may even make the work life miserable for the employee with a disability. At this point, the employee with the disability should report the problem via the procedures given in the employee handbook.

Termination due to Mental Health

This is illegal. If you are fired because you have a mental health disability, your employer has violated the law. Employers are also not permitted to reject you for a job or a promotion due to your mental health condition. Of course, employers do not need to hire someone who is unable to perform job function or don’t have the right qualifications. But if you are qualified and able to perform the job and you are rejected or fired due to your disability, you should sue.

Violation of Employee Rights

When you believe that your employee rights have been violated because of your mental health condition, you should immediately consider your legal options. A complaint must be filed within 180 days of the violation. Due to the time limit, you should get the wheels rolling as soon as possible. You may also want to contact an employment lawyer to hear more about your legal options.


If you are a worker with a mental health condition in Pennsylvania and have experienced employment discrimination, contact an employment attorney now to hear your legal solutions.

Chat with an employment attorney: (412) 626-5626 or