EEOC Provides Guidance on Mental Health Conditions and Work

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced the publication of a resource document, “Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights”, that explains workplace rights for applicants and employees who suffer with mental health conditions.

Many mental health conditions, such as major depression, post-traumatic stress and other conditions, are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers cannot discriminate or harass applicants or employees with protected conditions, and reasonable accommodation may also be required. The purpose of reasonable accommodation is to make work adjustments that allow the disabled individual to perform his or her job and remain employed. Examples can include modified work schedules or time off.

According to the EEOC, discrimination based on mental health conditions is rising. During fiscal year 2016, preliminary EEOC data shows that the agency resolved almost 5,000 charges of discrimination based on mental health conditions and obtained approximately $20 million for individuals who were unlawfully denied employment or reasonable accommodation because of their mental health conditions

“Many people with common mental health conditions have important protections under the ADA,” said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. “Employers, job applicants, and employees should know that mental health conditions are no different than physical health conditions under the law. In our recent outreach to veterans who have returned home with service-connected disabilities, we have seen the need to raise awareness about these issues. This resource document aims to clarify the protections that the ADA affords employees.”

The guidance is written in question and answer format. Although intended for individuals who have a mental health condition, the publication is also instructive for employers.

For example, the guidance emphasizes that employers cannot rely on myths or stereotypes about mental health conditions when making employment decisions and must always rely on objective evidence. The guidance also discusses how an employee or applicant may qualify for a reasonable accommodation.

Furthermore, the guidance discusses the circumstances when medical questions about an individual’s condition may be allowed.

In addition, to the guidance, the EEOC published a document called “The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for Reasonable Accommodation at Work” which helps mental health providers understand their role in the accommodation process.

In addition to federal protections, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act provides broad anti-discrimination protections for the disabled. In fact, while under federal law a person is considered disabled if he/she is “substantially limited” in one or more major life activities, California law only requires that the employee be “limited.”

CalChamber members can read more on Laws Protecting Employees with Disabilities in the HR Library. Not a member? Learn more about what HRCalifornia can do for you.

Staff: Gail Cecchettini Whaley