Mental Health and Workplace Discrimination
| Read Time: 4 minutes | Discrimination

Discrimination and mental health should not mix. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) can protect you if you have a mental health condition and have faced discrimination at work. These state and federal laws demand respect and reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, including workers who have mental health conditions. 

If your employer refuses to give due regard to your rights, our knowledgeable Los Angeles workplace discrimination attorneys at King & Siegel LLP can correct the misconduct and obtain compensation on your behalf. We have top-of-the-line training and tailor our advocacy to each client’s needs.

Mental Health Conditions Are More Common Than Some Might Think

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 20% of adults in the United States have a mental health condition. The CDC also notes that living with a mental health condition can contribute to the development of physical conditions, such as:

  • Heart disease,
  • Diabetes, and 
  • Stroke.

Treating a mental health condition with proper respect in the workplace is crucial not only for morale and an employee’s mental health but also for an employee’s physical health. So, let’s talk about your rights and your employer’s obligations under the law. 

Your Legal Rights

The law forbids your employer or a prospective employer from discriminating against you because of a mental health condition. Discrimination can include the following actions when they are motivated by a health condition:

  • Refusal to hire,
  • Job termination,
  • Demotion,
  • Refusal to accommodate,
  • Harassment,
  • Refusal to interview,
  • Pay cuts,
  • Refusal to promote,
  • Undesirable assignments, 
  • Unwanted job transfers, and
  • Exclusion from work opportunities.

Not only can an employer be liable for discrimination based on a mental health condition you may currently have, but it can also be liable for discrimination based on a mental health condition you had in the past or a mental health condition your employer incorrectly believes that you have. If your employer engages in discriminatory behavior, you could have a right to compensation and other legal relief.

The law also requires a prospective or current employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to the terms of a job that helps an individual apply for or perform an essential function of a job without undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation could include:

  • Modifying a work schedule,
  • Providing an electrical or mechanical aid,
  • Modifying job duties,
  • Relocating a workspace, or
  • Allowing leave for medical care.

When an employee requests accommodation or an employer becomes aware of an employee’s need for accommodation, the employer must engage in an interactive process that assesses the employee’s job and needs. An employer must provide an accommodation if it does not cause undue hardship, meaning it is not unduly disruptive, extensive, or substantial and does not fundamentally alter business operations. 

When Is a Mental Health Condition a Disability?

Under the law, a mental health condition is a disability if it substantially limits at least one of your major life activities, such as:

  • Learning or communicating, 
  • Seeing or hearing,
  • Concentrating or thinking,
  • Speaking or eating,
  • Walking or standing, or
  • Lifting or bending.

Determining whether you have a disability that warrants accommodation at work can be a fact-intensive and sensitive process that is best handled with the help of an attorney and a healthcare professional.  

How Do I Assert My Rights?

Employees and job applicants who have experienced mental health discrimination at work or while seeking employment can file a civil lawsuit or an administrative complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles administrative complaints under the ADA, and the California Civil Rights Division (CRD) handles administrative complaints under FEHA. Your employer must have at least five employees if you want to file a FEHA claim. And your employer must have at least 15 employees if you file an ADA complaint. 

If your claim is successful, you could recover the following remedies:

  • Compensation for lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses,
  • Reasonable accommodation,
  • Job or benefit reinstatement,
  • Compensation for emotional distress,
  • Punitive damages,
  • Policy changes at the workplace,
  • An increase in pay or a promotion, and
  • Legal costs.

Please remember that interns also have a right to sue or complain under FEHA. 

Real-World Examples of Discrimination

So, how does it look in the real world when discrimination and mental health become an issue at work? Every case is different, but the EEOC has reported several recent cases resolved in favor of employees. 

Termination After Need for Care and Medical Clearance for Work

In 2022, a labor-sourcing company had an employee with a psychiatric disability that required hospitalization. The employee was then cleared to return to work and had a future need to take intermittent leave for medical care. The company fired the employee because of their medical needs. The employee sued the company under the ADA and settled the case for $125,000 and an agreement to implement a reasonable accommodation policy. 

In a 2021 case, a healthcare provider’s employee asked to use an alternate door at the workplace because her disability made the use of the provider’s revolving door traumatic. The provider denied the employee’s request and was sued under the ADA. The provider settled with the employee for $130,000 and an agreement to conduct ADA training, change its employment forms, and allow the EEOC to monitor employees’ accommodation requests. 

If you have questions about whether your case qualifies for an employment complaint, we can guide you in the right direction. King & Siegel is passionate about fighting for the rights of employees all over California. 

Contact King & Siegel LLP Today

When you need an attorney with top training who gets top results, look no further than King & Siegel. Our attorneys received their legal education at the best law schools, have worked at the top firms nationwide, and have come together to give award-winning advocacy to mistreated employees. We have won millions for the California workforce. Please call us today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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