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Thread: Can you be fired for having a mental illness?

  1. #1
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    Default Can you be fired for having a mental illness?

    I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and am under the care of a psychiatrist where i am prescribed medication to combat this illness. My job puts a lot of pressure on me with long hours and countless other stressors. I don't do well with stress, it literally makes me sick.

    I have had a few unpleasant discussions with my direct supervisor, asking for just a little slack. For instance, I asked if I could adjust my work hours 15 minutes earlier, i.e. come in 15 minutes earlier so I can leave 15 minutes earlier to try and get a jump on traffic. She said NO! Even after I explained that this would benefit me by providing just a bit of stress relief. My supervisor is not aware of my illness.

    My question is: can one legally be fired from their job because of mental illness?
    I thought the Americans with Disabilities Act would help in this situation. Does it?
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  2. #2
    @pia A lot of your question's answer relies on the specifics of your situation. I encourage you to research the legal aspects of your next move far more then the psycological or physiological ailments that may currently plague you. Your individual illness, type of work and with which company, etc..

    My particular view is that it can be critically important to figure out what kind of accommodation you might be requesting of your employer before you irrevocably act to disclose info that may affect your employment. No affected employee may be under the mistaken belief that a disability operates to make an employee "bullet-proof"as to termination or exempt from the standards for performance of the position.

    Disability law operates in some -- not all-- circumstances to require an employer to make relatively small and non-burdensome adjustments to the way a job is performed in order to make it possible for the disabled employee to perform the job to the acceptable standard. The classic example is allowing the employee to do the work sitting rather than standing. Of course, as in all matters involving the law, it gets very much more complicated and subtle from there. But disability law does not protect inadequate performance, or require the employer to adopt lesser standards for acceptable performance.

    So, assuming for the purposes of analysis that disability law will apply to your mental health issue, how would you propose to adjust or re-design the components of your assigned duties in order to allow you to overcome or better manage your symptom of lack of "stress management"? A factually sound and legally-defensible proposal is a critical pre-disclosure determination. Just my 2 cent$.....


    This article may help with your situation,

    In this country, mental illness is the number one cause of disability for people 18 to 44 years of age. It cost employers an estimated $44 billion in lost productivity. Mental illness is just that—it’s an illness. Learning about mental illness helps remove the barriers that exist and the stigma.

    As co-workers and employers, we can take steps to understand this complex problem in our workplace. But it doesn’t end there—if 1 of 5 families experience mental illness, it means many of our friends and our loved ones are struggling, undiagnosed, or fighting for recovery, and sadly they may be facing this alone because of our ignorance or bias.

    Co-Workers Perspective
    You come to work on time, do your work and now you are covering for Matilda the Star. You have suspected something is wrong. What do you do?

    First, don’t assume your co-worker has mental illness if they behave strangely or you observe changes in their performance or attitude. It’s not you or your employer’s role to diagnosis. Your supervisor may know that she is experiencing mental illness, but that is private medical information and not something your employer will disclose to you. Laws protect her privacy just as they protect yours.

    If your co-worker confides in you but she hasn’t sought help:

    ■Encourage her to seek professional assistance—your company Employee Assistance Program may be a free confidential start.

    ■Be respectful of the confidence shared with you—don’t take what you might perceive as a tasty gossip tidbit and run out to tell everyone.

    ■You can support her but don’t enable her—she is still accountable for her choices and a completing the work even if she experiences mental illness.

    She needs the intervention of mental health professionals. Remember that you can’t fix her or her work performance problems. It’s easy to want to avoid your colleague, but think how you would feel if it was you or a friend or loved one—be supportive. If you are worried, don’t hesitate to talk to your supervisor or Human Resources when you observe a steady stream of changes or some dramatic change in behavior, especially if she discloses that she might harm herself or others.

    Employer Perspective
    As an employer, you already know that that there are legal protections for the employee experiencing mental illness if specific thresholds are met. Mental illness in the workplace effects everyone—the employee, the co-workers and you as an employer. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act (if they apply to your workplace) offer protection for you as an employer and for your employee. Yes, these laws do protect you as an employer, despite common thinking that they are all about the employee—it’s how you look at them.

    Your initial reactions to claims might include the cost, whiny co-workers if there is an accommodation, and work not being completed—Matilda the Star now controlling the work place and department productivity—not you. But you are already dealing with the cost of mental illness—untreated mental illness results in more general health services cost then those seeking treatment. Mental Illness is the 2nd leading cause of work place absenteeism. Remember: when an employee is absent, it still costs you money. Upon a diagnosis and treatment; 3 out of 4 employees (your neighbors, your friends, your children) see substantial improvement in their work performance.

    Employers can help themselves and their employees. Losing talent is expense. Don’t pat yourself on the back for doing what is right (in many cases you are just compliant with the laws) when you work with an employee. You are acting as a responsible employer by preserving the employment of a good employee—but it’s good economics.

    Every employee you lose costs on average 1½ times their annual salaries in lost productivity, institutional knowledge, and workplace morale.

    Keep in mind that your employees are not required to disclose their illness—if their work deteriorates, simply hold your employee accountable to completing the work. You have no duty to accommodate someone who fails to indicate that they have a disability. You have a right to expect work to be completed. You can suggest they explore their options with the Employee Assistance Program when behaviors and performance decline or change. As always, focus on the work and expectations.

    If an employee comes to you stating that they have a mental illness and need an accommodation, get Human Resources involved. The ADA covers those who are qualified: if they can’t do the job, they do not meet the standard. Assuming the employee is covered by the ADA, explore options to accommodate the employee.

    Accommodations on average have been found to cost about $500, which is substantially less than replacing a talented employee. Let the employee guide you on their needs. You can seek outside assistance as well. Many employees returning to the workplace have job coaches who are mental health professionals who may offer valuable assistance and insight.

    Let’s examine some problems and solutions that may be helpful:

    ■Difficulty concentrating: Look at projects in pieces—just break them down without compromising the project, assign work tasks one at a time, and/or allow short but frequent breaks.
    ■Difficulty blocking out office sounds and distractions: Have the employee use headphones, move them from the hub of noise and activity and/or printers/copier/fax machines.
    ■Difficulty interacting with co-workers: Assign a work buddy or mentor to the employee to show them the “ropes” of the office.
    ■Difficulty adapting to change: Prepare the employee for the change, explain new work rules or programs, make sure the employee is introduced to the supervisors and colleagues.
    If your employee has a job coach, utilize the advantage of this resource. Denise Stuart, a mental health professional, stated that she has "witnessed, the positive impact that a reasonable accommodation can make; even one as simple as having an employee start their work day 30 minutes later due to the side effects of their medications."

    The Job Accommodation Network is a resource for employers. Many states (including Nebraska) have a variety of resources available, you only need to look to the Department of Health and Human Services. Assisting those with mental illness does offer us the opportunity to advance our businesses, but it also helps those seeking to reintegrate into jobs and employment. We should not lose sight of the impact of mental illness. Together we begin to dissect the barriers.



    This one is about a gentlemen who won a court case over being fired due to his particular mentall illness:

    In his time at Cottonwood Financial, Sean Reilly had overcome much. He had risen the company ranks from assistant to head store manager, and even won performance awards in spite of his bipolar disorder. Yet he claims that when he requested leave in 2007 to give him time to adjust to a new medication, he was fired.

    A suit was filed on Reilly's behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It alleged employment discrimination under federal disability law, and on Thursday, the District Court for Eastern Washington ordered the financial services company to pay Reilly a total of $56,500 in damages. The finding is one several over the past decade in which a plaintiff diagnosed as bipolar emerged victorious in an employment discrimination lawsuit.

    "This case was never about money or any sort of payback -- it was always about doing the right thing to help protect the rights of people with disabilities," Reilly said after the verdict, according to an EEOC news release.
    In saying Cottonwood violated the 1990 Americans With Disability Act, the court awarded Reilly $6,500 in back wages and another $50,000 for emotional pain and suffering. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Edward F. Shea called out Reilly's perseverance in the face of his disorder. He was a high school honors student before attending college in Portland, Ore., and he began working for Cottonwood after leaving college to address his mental disorder.

    According to the World Health Organization, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world, and many employees lose their jobs as a result of it. The ruling is being hailed by the EEOC as a landmark for Americans with bipolar disorder.

    "Employers acting on outdated myths and fears about disabilities need to know that the EEOC will not shy away from taking ADA cases to trial to bring them into the 21st century," said William Tamayo, the EEOC's regional attorney in San Francisco.
    Fired By Note, Posted On The Door

    In its report, the EEOC celebrated the ruling as one of the first for lawsuits pertaining to bipolar disorder. But it wasn't without complete precedent. Back in 2003, the District Court for Western Oklahoma rejected a motion to dismiss a wrongful termination suit filed against commercial lighting distributor Voss Electric. The Lincoln, Neb.,-company had fired one of its employees right after doctors ordered the employee to undergo a period of inpatient treatment for bipolar disorder. The company had notified the patient of the termination by taping a sign on the employee's front door, the EEOC noted. The employee received $91,250 in the agreement.
    The latest advance for Americans diagnosed with bipolar comes, in the Cottonwood case, just as the patent for the extended-release version of a leading medication for the disorder was granted protection through 2017. At that point, generic competition will be allowed to enter the market, The Street reported

    Keep us posted,

    -WISH
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