My friend, let’s call her Marla, deals with depression. Day to day, she seems fine, but before she sought medical care, Marla described her depression as a black void with gremlins that try to drag her down. And not a lot could help her get through it. She was living the life of her dreams. And still she had depression.
When Marla eventually sought medical care and medication to help her deal with her depression, she had some uncomfortable conversations with her boss. She requested time off for her mental health condition, and she met resistance. Most of those conversations ended with her boss telling her to “just think positive.”
Depression doesn’t work like that.
When it comes to bosses accommodating certain conditions in the workplace, it is easy for employers to agree to make accommodations for those who may be in a wheelchair or use a cane. Those are obvious. But what about depression? Or another invisible mental health condition?
Some employers are quick to dismiss someone’s claim of a disability if it can’t be seen with one’s eyes. Anxiety, learning disabilities, depression, and other mental disorders are all very real, but they can’t be seen. That does not make them any less real, and those disorders are worthy of consideration for accommodations and equal treatment in the workplace.
On average, an employee works around 2,087 hours in a year. That’s just under a quarter of all the hours we each have in a year. With so much of our lives spent at work, it’s important for every employee to understand what mental health rights the law might provide for them. Granted, every country is different.
Mental Health According to the USA Law
In the United States, workers are protected by a collection of laws that outline the definition of “disability” in a broad way, intentionally keeping it vague so that more employees can seek protection under these laws. According to the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act is defined as a physical or mental impairment so severe that it limits a major life function.
Based on that definition of “disability,” Marla receives protections from the US law due to her depression since it was impacting her ability to work. As her depression worsened, she struggled to focus at work and to get out of bed each day. Everything in her life was suffering.
Reasonable Accommodations for Mental Health Conditions
To protect her work and health, Marla chose to seek reasonable accommodations from her boss. Workplace law in the United States obligates employers to provide accommodations that are reasonable to employees with disabilities. Even if you don’t live in the United States, you may have protections under your country’s laws.
- Modified schedules
- Leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if an employee qualifies
- Extended deadlines to complete work
- Modified procedures of operations
- Working from home
- Stress-relieving environmental changes
As long as those accommodations do not place a hardship on the company, the employer MUST make those adjustments.
This is not to say that employers have no rights in the matter. Employers are not required to make unreasonable or burdensome accommodations despite the disability status of an employee.
If, for example, Marla worked at a retail store and requested a reduction in hours as an accommodation for her depression, the employer may not have to grant that if they can show that the accommodation would severely impact their business operations and cause undue hardship. However, if there is a secondary, less burdensome accommodation that can be made, they must grant that.
Ask Your Boss for Accommodations
Dealing with a mental health condition and needing to speak with your boss about accommodations can be ridiculously difficult. Marla didn’t want to admit that there could be something “wrong” with her. And despite the fact that the world is becoming more understanding of mental health issues, there’s still room for growth.
Marla visited her doctor and received paperwork that supported her need for accommodation at work. Her documents explained what her employer could do to help Marla perform her job better despite her mental health condition. Once again, laws differ country to country. But, people should be aware that their mental health may receive protections from workplace law.
Marla is a hard worker, and once she found the right medication for her depression, she clicked back into her work routine, providing exceptional graphic design to clients. Employers that hire people with mental conditions may discover workers who are loyal and hard-working assets to their business.
And it’s so important that we, as humans, know how to take care of ourselves in every facet of our lives, whether work or home.
Girl – Licensed with Shutterstock
Meeting – Licensed with Shutterstock
Guest Author Bio
Barbara Brutt, communications director at KM&A, works with the KM&A attorneys to create educational content about the employment rights available to every employee. Before joining KM&A, Barbara worked as a project manager for a team of graphic designers and an editorial assistant at a publishing house.
Blog / Website: KM&A
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