Side view of a Black man looking down at his laptop screen, engaged in a video call with a Black woman

Webinar Helps People Navigate Mental Health in the Workplace

Side view of a Black man looking down at his laptop screen, engaged in a video call with a Black woman

Working from home was once frowned upon and even forbidden by many employers, despite making jobs more accessible. Now, the pandemic has made it necessary and normal even for people without disabilities. (Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash)

By Julia Métraux

Companies are legally required to provide accommodations to people with disabilities, and that includes mental health conditions. Despite this being the case for decades in the United States, many people with such conditions do not know they can seek accommodations at work without being penalized.

Disability Rights California offered a webinar Monday that explained how Title I under the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with mental health disabilities as they seek accommodations to help them succeed. This was a peer-to-peer led webinar that did not offer specific legal advice.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have struggled with mental health issues for many reasons, including grief, illness, fear of getting sick and living under restrictive conditions. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that around 30% of adults in California experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety in December.

Mental illness can affect all areas of people’s lives, work included. Stigma can make it difficult to ask for accommodations at one’s job. But, under the ADA, employers have to give reasonable accommodations to people with mental health disabilities.

“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers who have 15 or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations to accommodate employees with disabilities, so that they can do the job without causing the employer undue hardship or too much difficulty or expense,” Claire Haider, a nonbinary person who led the presentation, said.

In addition to the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 could protect employees with mental health disabilities. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “This law protects federal government workers and employees at any of these agencies [that receive public funding] from disability discrimination.”

Despite the prevalence of mental health disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic and before, it can be difficult for people to disclose any diagnosis for a mental health condition they live with. The good news is, this is not necessary to receive accommodations.

“It’s not necessary, but be prepared to talk about the supports or technology that you might need in order to assist you in the workplace,” Haider said. “You may be required to provide medical documentation about your disability and shows how and show how it relates to your accommodation request.”

Haider recommends that people looking for accommodations do research into what has helped other people with the same or similar disabilities at work.

One resource that may help is the Job Accommodation Network. According to its website, the network provides free consulting services to all disabled people, regardless of their medical condition. “Services include one-on-one consultation about all aspects of job accommodations, including the accommodation process, accommodation ideas, product vendors, referral to other resources, and ADA compliance assistance,” JAN’s site says.

Employees may benefit from explaining to their supervisor how their disability affects how they complete certain tasks, which can help the company find ways to accommodate them.

“For example, some folks might be on medication that will impact their ability to sort out tasks,” Haider said. “Assistance with time management via breaks or breaking projects into smaller tasks may be implemented to help the individual.”

COVID-19 has also shown that some accommodations previously deemed too complicated, like working from home, became reasonable once non-disabled people needed it too. It may be beneficial for people with some mental health disabilities to come in only certain days of a week or work completely remotely, and the pandemic has proven this is feasible for many jobs.

Companies can also take the first step into looking at how their work environment is structured could be difficult for people with certain mental health disabilities.

“Making social events optional provides the opportunity for individuals to avoid potentially triggering or harmful situations,” Haider said. “For example, avoiding a potluck if you have a food disorder or social gathering for work if you have a social anxiety.”

While not legally required, a research brief from the ADA Network said that “providing mental health services as an employee benefit is also an employer practice shown to support inclusiveness in the workplace.” Companies can go above and beyond what is legally required to support employees who live with mental health conditions.

If you are disabled and believe that your rights are being violated at work, you can file an ADA complaint.

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