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Mental Health and Your Rights in the Workplace

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Entering the workforce is an exciting rite of passage for most young people but the ability to work a job isn’t always cut and dry. For example, you may have physical or mental limitations that impede your ability to perform certain tasks. It’s crucial to note that disabilities aren’t always visible, and mental health disorders are particularly notable in this regard.

In and out of the workplace, mental health disorders are strikingly prevalent. Data indicates that more than 46% of adults in the U.S. will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. Although commonplace in modern society, the unfortunate reality is that psychiatric disabilities remain widely misunderstood — even stigmatized. For workers struggling with a mental health disorder, this can be especially problematic, and you may worry about losing your job.

The good news is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures certain protections for disabled workers no matter the nature of their disability. Here’s what you need to know about reasonable accommodations and workplace rights when it comes to mental health conditions under the ADA.

What are Your Rights as a Disabled Worker?

The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Psychiatric disorders were added to the ADA in 2008, and workers with a history of mental illness today have the right to privacy as well as the right to reasonable accommodation. In layman’s terms, “reasonable accommodation” could involve altered work schedules, changes in supervisor interaction and more. 

Providing reasonable accommodation, however, isn’t solely the responsibility of your employer. You must also advocate for yourself and your workplace rights, and inform your manager or the HR department of any accommodations you may require. Always provide written documentation that verifies your condition and how it may affect your work to better protect yourself in the event of potential discrimination.

Additionally, workers who have mental health conditions including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder are also legally protected against discrimination and harassment. As such, your employer cannot fire you, reduce your hours, or otherwise impede your ability to work simply because you’re living with a mental health condition. If you believe that your rights have been violated, don’t hesitate to speak up to both management and your colleagues alike. 

The Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders

An unfortunate side effect of our fast-paced modern world is that it can harm our mental health. Even before COVID altered life as we know it, the overall picture of mental health in the U.S. was rather discouraging. According to Forbes, the youngest members of the workforce are the most vulnerable in terms of poor mental health. Among young people between the ages of 12 and 17, major depressive episodes (MDEs) are increasingly commonplace, and treatment is far from consistent.

Studies show that treatment is vital when it comes to mental health disorders. Effective treatment methods can vary significantly among individuals, from therapy and counseling to medications and general lifestyle changes. To better manage your mental health condition while on the job, you can also take a more holistic approach. Techniques such as breathing exercises and practicing mindfulness can do wonders for reducing your anxiety and managing stress

Taking Charge of Your Mental Health at Work and Beyond

Within the workplace, you should be aware of your limitations in whatever form they happen to take and how they can impact your performance. Mental health disorders can be a productivity killer, significantly impacting your employer’s bottom line. Medical professionals report that the estimated economic impact of depression alone exceeds $31 billion annually in social, psychological, and occupational costs. 
For many Americans, living with a mental health condition while also actively participating in the workforce can be especially challenging. As we continue to adapt to life post-COVID, addressing mental health in the workplace and protecting workers rights is more important than ever. As such, you should take steps to protect yourself, and knowing your workplace rights under the ADA is an ideal starting point.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.


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5 Steps To Ensure Your Work-From-Home Employees Maximize Corporate Performance

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Use These Guidelines to Ensure That Your Remote Workplace Is A Corporate Asset

The advent of employees working from the home continues to rise, a trend that will surely continue in the future. 

Corporations recognize that an increasing number of employees – particularly millennials and contract workers in the “gig” economy – value this option and that it is a tool to better attract/retain employees. 

Benefits to reducing brick-&-mortar expenses, such as utility bills, are also an attraction to many employers.  Still others are faced with mandated work-from-home provisions due to unforeseen events such as the coronavirus pandemic.  All of these factors will ensure that remote workplace activity will only increase going forward.

Having said this, many corporate managers fear employee misuse of such freedom. 

Here are 5 some steps to ensure that creating a remote workplace environment for employees is a positive, beneficial step for the company.

  1. Identify clear expectations from remote employees.  Key elements of this communication include the hours to be worked, amount of work to be completed each day, task prioritization, guidelines for the amount/timing of communications with management, etc.
  2. Ensure remote employees have the proper tools.  Not only does this include corporate laptops and the like, but also ensuring they can log in and input data via corporate portals that will assist management in tracking employee progress, performance, needs, etc. Doing so will reduce the need for managers to utilize valuable time in personally tracking and evaluating such data.
  3. Regularly monitor employee progress (and needs).  Employers must regularly follow up on employee progress to ensure that corporate objectives and expectations are met, and also to ensure the company is there to offer assistance to any employee who, for whatever reason, is struggling with the “remote” proposition.
  4. Interact regularly with remote employees.  All employees need some degree of support and morale enhancement from their management and key associates.  This in turn bolsters productivity and acknowledges that remote employees have not been forgotten, or their contributions overlooked for performance evaluation or promotion consideration.
  5. Place trust and faith in remote employees.  Virtually every employee wants recognition as being an important asset to the company.  While some may intentionally or inadvertently misuse remote working privileges, most will not – especially if given the proper guidance recommended above.  Managers need to avoid the extremes of micromanagement and inadvertently placing too little emphasis on mutual communication with their employees.

Properly managed, the remote workplace can benefit employers and employees alike.  Follow the abovementioned steps to ensure it is an asset on your organization’s behalf.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heidi Allison currently serves as a board member for Workplace Fairness, lending her expertise in communications, public relations and media relations. One of her passions is assisting job seekers with ground-breaking advice and discussions about career advancement.


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Mental disabilities merit reasonable accommodation

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The many myths and stigmas surrounding mental illness create barriers in the workplace. Employees with mental disabilities may be hesitant to disclose their struggles or ask for accommodations, and for good reason. Employers often refuse “special treatment” or even retaliate against the person.

If you are a federal employee with a mental or intellectual disability, you have rights. Your agency is required to make the reasonable accommodations you need to do your job and excel in your federal service career. What might that look like?

The law on disclosure and accommodation

Job candidates are not required to disclose a mental disability (or any disability) in the hiring process. You cannot be fired, demoted, reprimanded or taken out of consideration for job postings if your condition is later disclosed or discovered.

The ADA National Network says that a psychiatric disability should not be an issue unless your condition affects your ability to do perform your duties. Your agency is legally bound to accommodate you if you develop a disabling mental condition in the course of employment, if your pre-existing disability worsens, or if your duties change in a way that your disability interferes with your job.

What does “reasonable accommodation” look like?

The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability. The ADA specifically requires employers, including federal agencies and federal contractors, to make reasonable accommodations.

For mental disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic/anxiety disorder, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, accommodations might include:

  • Allowing the employee to work from home
  • Allowing the employee to skip face-to-face meetings
  • A quieter work station or white noise earphones
  • Flexible scheduling for medical appointments
  • Temporary part-time status until the condition stabilizes
  • More frequent work breaks
  • Supervision by a different manager

The accommodation should be tailored to the employee and their limiting condition, and not merely dictated as a take-it-or-leave-it.

When the agency balks or pushes back

Some employers feel blindsided or betrayed when a disability comes to light. They might give a negative performance review or create a hostile working environment to force you to quit. They might flatly refuse the specific accommodation or refuse to engage in an interactive process to reach a viable solution. All of these responses violate the ADA. If this happens, it is time to consult legal counsel.

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on October 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.


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Walmart sued for alleged discrimination against pregnant workers

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Federal regulators have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming the retailer forced pregnant workers to take unpaid leave and refused their requests for less physically demanding duties.

Companies are required by law to accommodate employee pregnancies the same way they would disabilities, according to an article on the lawsuit published by Reuters. The suit was filed Friday on behalf of Alyssa Gilliam and several other female employees.

In her complaint, Gilliam said she became pregnant in April 2015, at which point she requested “light duty or transfer to a less physically demanding job” to avoid any heavy lifting that might endanger her pregnancy. She said she was told “light duty” was only available “to employees on workers’ compensation.”

Gilliam claimed her requests for a chair, shorter work days, or additional breaks were also denied. She said that eventually, she was forced to transfer to a part-time job within the company, resulting in a pay cut and loss of benefits.

In November 2015, Gilliam said she submitted a doctor’s note to the company identifying a five pound lifting restriction. Walmart, in response, immediately placed her on unpaid FMLA (parental) leave, two full months before she was due to deliver.

The company allegedly denied requests for accommodations for other pregnancy-related medical restrictions made by other pregnant employees at the distribution center, the suit argues.

By contrast, Walmart “accommodated non-pregnant employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work.”

“For example, Defendant accommodated [distribution center] employees who had restrictions due to work-related injuries by providing them with light duty,” the suit reads.

“Defendant deprived Gilliam and a class of female employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their sex and pregnancy.”

Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, said in a statement Friday that Walmart’s alleged refusal to accommodate the pregnant workers amounted to a violation of federal law.

“What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated,” she said. “But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law.”

The EEOC said it is seeking “full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart’s practices going forward.”

In a statement Friday, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove responded to the suit, saying the company’s anti-discrimination policies were in full compliance with the law.

“Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law,” he said.

The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart is reportedly facing similar lawsuits in other states, including Illinois and New York. In May last year, Hargrove issued a statement insisting the company was “a great place for women to work.”

According to Reuters, the company requested to have the Illinois suit tossed out earlier this year, but was denied. The New York suit is currently pending.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Melanie Schmitz is an editor at ThinkProgress. She formerly worked at Bustle and Romper. Send her tips here: mschmitz@thinkprogress.org.


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