Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States, with around 16 million Americans suffering from it every year. If you suffer from depression, you may be wondering what your rights are when applying for a job and when you are up for promotion – what laws protect you and when to hold your company liable.
What constitutes a disability?
A person qualifies as disabled if (1) he or she has a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities or bodily functions; (2) has a history of the impairment; and (3) is regarded as having the impairment.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which took effect on 1992, prevents private employers, employment agencies, state and local governments, and labor unions from discriminating against people with disabilities. Businesses with 15 or more employees are required to comply with the ADA.
In 2008, significant changes were made to the ADA, which expanded the definition of “disability.” These changes made it possible for people with “invisible” disabilities such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety to be protected.
Under the ADA, you are protected against discrimination and harassment because of your condition. You also have workplace privacy rights and the legal right to acquire reasonable accommodation that will help you perform and keep your job.
Workplace Privacy Rights
You can keep your condition private in most situations. Your employer can only ask medical questions under certain conditions such as the following:
- When there is substantial evidence that the impairment keeps you from doing your job or poses a safety risk.
- After getting a job offer and before employment begins – provided that all applicants in the same category are asked the same question
- In case of affirmative action for people with disabilities – for example, a public sector employer considering whether special hiring rules may apply
- When you ask for reasonable accommodation
Under the ADA, employers are required to give reasonable accommodation for employees with a known disability, as long as it does not create undue hardship for the company such as substantial difficulty or expense.
For people with depression, reasonable accommodation can come in the form of flexible work schedules, job sharing options, time off for therapy sessions and support group meetings, extended leave after a hospitalization, periodical opportunity to work from home, to name a few.
You can get reasonable accommodation for a mental health condition that would, if left untreated, “substantially limit” your ability to concentrate, communicate, sleep, eat, interact with others, and other major life activities. Note that your condition does not need to be permanent for it to be substantially limiting – what matters is how limiting they would be when the symptoms are present.
When you ask for reasonable accommodation, your employer may ask you to put the request in writing, as well as generally describe your condition. They may also ask you to provide a letter from your health care provider documenting that you have a mental health condition and that you are in need of reasonable accommodation for it.
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