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Sick Time, ADA, and Mental Illness

12360527084Most people understand the law protects people with disabilities. Laws provide protection for consumers just trying to live normal, healthy lives, as well as those who are employees. Employers are legally required to accommodate employees with disabilities.

This includes people with physical disabilities, as well as mental health disabilities.

If you’re coping with a diagnosed mental illness, you are entitled to protections provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Unfortunately, it can be a challenge for an employee to disclose his or her mental illness to an employer.

In many cases, with a physical disability, the issue is obvious and no discussion is needed. But employees with a mental illness will need to explain their situation to their employer – something many people are uncomfortable doing because they fear being stigmatized or mistreated.

How Does the Law Protect Employees with Mental Illness?

The FMLA provides protection to employees who need to take time off of work to care for a loved one or for their own health. The time off is unpaid, but their jobs must be preserved for when they are ready to return.

According to the Department of Labor, this coverage applies to those with a mental illness or disorder that “makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.”

Some of the impairments covered under the law include:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also recognizes the challenges employees face when deciding whether or not to tell their employer about a mental illness or impairment. Employers have a right to ask questions about a disability to determine what accommodations can be needed, and unfortunately, this can be an uncomfortable conversation for employees.

There is no law requiring an applicant for a job disclose a mental impairment and potential employers cannot ask. The only reason there should be a discussion about an employee’s mental health is if his or her job is affected and accommodations are needed to perform job duties.

If you’re in this situation and you need to alert your employer to an issue, start by getting an official diagnosis from a doctor. You can provide information from your doctor to your employer, which will likely be requested eventually anyway. An official diagnosis can cut through a lot of difficult questions and explanations and make things easier for you and your employer.

Additional Protection under New York Law

In addition to federal laws protecting employees with mental illness, New York State’s Human Rights Law also offer protection against discrimination based on:

  • Anatomical
  • Physiological
  • Genetic
  • Neurological impairment

New York law doesn’t require showing an impairment affects the employee, but it is necessary to show there is an impairment. The state law broadens federal protections and covers a number of conditions that might not be covered under federal laws.

If you’d like to learn more about how laws protect employees with mental health conditions or you have any questions about protections afforded to you under disability laws, contact New York employment lawyers Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C.


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