Mental health diagnoses can be difficult for those who have to deal with them. Some progress is being made in the U.S. as to destigmatizing conditions like depression/anxiety, panic disorder and ADHD. However, it can still be difficult to come out with these diagnoses at work, especially since misinformation persists about them and about the people who deal with them. If you believe you have been mistreated at work due to a mental health diagnosis, it’s important to know that you have options to address the problem under the ADA.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
Contrary to many popular misconceptions, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not only extend its protections to those who are physically disabled. The Act specifically states that it is to be applied to those with either a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits” one or more major life activities. In order to be covered by the ADA, you have to be able to show a disability like this, and you have to show that you are able to perform the core functions of your job with or without accommodations—that is, that you do not need accommodations just to do your job at all.
South Carolina does not, as of this writing, have any state laws that safeguard the rights of disabled employees, instead preferring to simply enforce the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This does not mean, however, that you are restricted to dealing with federal authorities if you experience discrimination. The South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) will also accept complaints filed on the basis of disability discrimination if you would prefer to file locally rather than with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The Right To Request Accommodations
While you do not always have the right to accommodations, depending on the degree of burden to your employer, you have the right to ask. You cannot be penalized for any kind of accommodation request. If you are, it will count as retaliation, which is actionable. While sometimes your employer cannot necessarily grant accommodations due to their cost or potential manpower loss, any reasonable accommodation that is not an “undue burden” should be granted.
Keep in mind, however, that while what constitutes an “undue burden” is subjective, the factors to consider when determining whether something is an undue burden are not. If an accommodation such as a schedule change, reduced distractions or the use of a job coach or aide are not a burden for someone who is physically disabled, it will be a rare case in which they will be determined too burdensome for someone who is mentally disabled or ill. Too often, employers will default to declining accommodations for someone who has a mental illness simply because they think the illness is not that big of an obstacle. But if you can demonstrate that it is, the law is on your side.
Consult An Employment Law Attorney
It can be difficult to speak up for yourself if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness. But you are just as entitled to accommodations as the physically disabled. If you believe you have been discriminated against due to a mental illness or disability, consulting with an attorney who is well-versed in employment law can be helpful.
Attorney A. Christopher Potts understands the law and will work hard to help ensure that you are given your fair chance to succeed at your job. Contact Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule an appointment.