Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mental Illness in the Workplace

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 26.2% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. Given this, it is all but inevitable that everyone will find themselves hiring or working with people who suffer from one of these serious disorders. Additionally, just over a quarter of our workforce will find themselves trying to find a job in a society that is not always friendly to anyone who is different. It is important that everyone who has or is looking for a job educate themselves about this social issue.

First, let's consider the rights and responsibilities that employees with emotional disorders are given by law. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 of 1990 provides the same protections for them as for workers with physical disabilities. Some of the most common issues faced by workers include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse. Any of these can be a protected problem if they substantially interfere with a major life activity such as self-care or employment.

If a job applicant or employee desires protection under the Act, he or she must disclose his or her health information to the Human Resources department at his or her workplace. There is no legal requirement to disclose health information to any other co-worker who does not need to know it. Additional information that workers may want to provide includes their symptoms and needed accommodations.

Employers are not required to provide services that will cost an unsustainable amount or endanger other employees. If they make this choice, however, the burden of proof will be on them if the case ends up in court. If they cannot, it is illegal for them to fire or refuse to hire an employee based on nothing but his or her health complications.

Once a person begins a new job, he or she is protected against any form of harassment or discrimination while there. This can include biased and insulting language, unfair negative appraisals, being unjustly passed over for promotions, or a hostile work environment. Supervisors have a duty to educate people about these policies and enforce them whenever necessary.

Mental health and employment is a complicated issue. In order for the situation to work best for everyone, communication is very important. Workers need to clearly inform the necessary people about their needs, while managers need to be clear about rights and expectations. If everyone is informed and open-minded, there can be a productive and friendly environment for all.

For more information about this issue, contact Los Angeles ADA lawyer Perry Smith.

Joseph Devine

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