Mental Health: What are an employee's rights?

January 17, 2017 – Before starting a new job, many employees wonder whether to disclose a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD, particularly if they are in need of a workplace accommodation. Similarly, existing employees ask about their rights when it comes to mental health discrimination, harassment and privacy. Legal protections for mental health conditions are no different than physical health conditions. However, with charges of discrimination based on mental health on the rise, employees and job applicants should know their rights.

Can I be fired because I have a mental health condition?
No. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee with a mental health condition. This includes, but is not limited to, failing to hire, harassing or terminating an employee due to a mental or physical health condition. However, an employer may assess whether the employee is able to do the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable workplace accommodation, or whether the health condition poses a significant safety risk to the employee or to others. 

Do I need to disclose a mental health condition?
In general, an employee may keep their health condition private. However, the employee should be prepared to discuss the condition when seeking a reasonable accommodation in the workplace or to determine eligibility for benefits and rights under other laws, including a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Only under limited circumstances may an employer ask about a medical condition, including:

  • When the employee asks for a workplace accommodation.
  • After a job offer is made, but before employment begins, so long as all employees seeking the same position are asked the same questions.
  • On the job, when there is evidence the employee is unable to perform the job or may pose a safety risk due to the health condition.

In all instances, the employer must keep the employee’s medical information confidential and must not discriminate or retaliate against the employee.

How do I request an accommodation?
An employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee or a job applicant with a mental health condition, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the employer–­that is, that it would require significant difficulty or expense. A reasonable accommodation may include:

  • Modified break or work schedules (e.g. to accommodate medical appointments);
  • Reassignment to a vacant position;
  • Specific shift assignments; or
  • Quiet office space or devices that help create a quiet work environment.

To seek an accommodation, the employee should tell a supervisor or HR manager (or consult their employee handbook for the appropriate person and procedure) of their need for a change in the workplace because of medical condition. In turn, the employer must work with the employee to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is possible and the appropriate accommodation. See also this EEOC publication for more information about mental health discrimination and employee rights.)

Protect Your Rights Against Disability and Mental Health Discrimination
If you believe you have suffered discrimination because of a mental health or physical health condition, our disability discrimination lawyers want to hear from you. Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP is dedicated to protecting employee rights of employees with disabilities in Minneapolis, St. Paul and throughout Minnesota. Contact us at 612-252-3570 or click here click here for a free initial consultation.