Can You Be Terminated for Having a Mental Condition?

It is illegal for an employer to wrongfully discriminate against someone or to wrongfully terminate an employee. If such incident happens to anyone, our lawyers can sue the employer and get justice via the lawsuit. Mental conditions have only recently been taken seriously as scientific research shows the very real effects and tolls that come with having a mental condition. Employers are not allowed to terminate employees with disabilities that are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and mental illnesses are sometimes under these protections.

We have helped many clients through wrongful termination discharges, and receive countless questions on employees’ rights if they have a mental condition. Examples of such questions are:

  • Can you be fired for having a mental condition?
  • Can your employer fire you for a mental illness?
  • Is a mental illness a disability under the ADA?
  • Can your boss fire you for having depression or anxiety?
  • Can you be fired for having PTSD?
  • Can I be fired for having bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? What are my rights if this happens to me?
  • Can my employer discriminate against me for mental health issues? What can I do if my employer is discriminating against me for a mental illness?
  • Can I be fired for having depression?

Here’s what you need to know if you have been terminated for having a mental condition.

What Is a Mental Condition?

Mental conditions, illnesses, and disabilities may make you eligible to receive benefits under the ADA’s definition of a disability. But what is a mental condition and why does it make certain people eligible? Under the ADA, a disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or major bodily function.”

Mental conditions include everything that can interfere with your ability to work from psychological disorders and mental illnesses, which cover such things like anxiety disorders, major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Intellectual disabilities (formerly known as mental retardation) are included within this definition of mental conditions.

The ADA does not have a strict list of conditions – it rather forces the employer to look at how the condition affects the individual. An important question to ask follows thusly: does the impairment affect one or more of the individual’s major life activities (like going to work) or major bodily functions (like proper mental processes)? If the answer to this question is “yes,” then it is a disability.

Many of the mental illnesses which were named above practically impair a person’s ability to work and count as disabilities under the ADA because they affect the individual’s ability to learn, think, communicate, sleep, concentrate, or think of one’s self. All of which are considered to be major life activities under the ADA. Additionally, psychiatric and mental impairments are also considered to be obstructions of bodily functions (the brain).

When ascertaining whether a disability exists, the law does not consider attenuating measures, or conditions which help keep the illness under control or at bay. So if an employee takes medication to deal with his or her depression, the condition is still said to exist and be a disability under the ADA. Congress amended the ADA in 2008, and it expressly instructed employers to assume that if an employee tells you of a mental or psychiatric condition, to assume that the condition us protected under the law: it is safer to err on the side of inclusion, rather than defining mental condition so narrowly as to exclude employees.

Can You Be Discriminated Against or Fired for Having a Mental Disability?

If an employee’s mental disability is covered under the ADA, then he or she can be subject to disability discrimination. Disability discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee differently from other employees simply because the employee has a disability. In fact, even if the employer may suspect that the employee may have some sort of mental disability, when the employee actually does not, is unlawful in the eyes of the ADA. For example, if an employer believes one of their employees has a mental illness but has never been told and makes a reasonable accommodation, that employer is violating the ADA for treating that employee differently. An employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee is put into effect only once the employer has been notified about the employee’s disability.

Employees may choose to keep their mental condition under wraps. If an employee takes medication to control their mental condition and can perform all of their employment duties, they may not feel obligated to share their mental condition. Typically, employees only tell employers about their disability when they want a reasonable accommodation. So, for example, there may be an employee who has been late several times without an excuse. At the disciplinary hearing, the employee may reveal they recently started taking medication to deal with their mental condition and makes it difficult to get going in the morning. The employee has now revealed their disability and employer must now act appropriately.

Unless the employee has stated they have a disability, an employer may not ask if the employee has a disability. There is, however, an exception. The employer can only ask if it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” What does this mean? This means that only if an employer has clear, objective facts and have reasonable belief that the employee’s behavior may create a direct threat to their and other’s health and safety, or unable to perform their employment duties can an employer inquire about their behavior. For example, if the employee suddenly starts to behave erratically and communicate in cryptic, confusing language, then the employer can ask if everything is OK and could require their employee to undergo a medical examination.

An employer cannot discharge you simply because you have a mental disability, but the employer must be aware of your disability in order for the law to fully protect your job status. It is within an employee’s right to not disclose their illness to their employer. Once an employer becomes aware of the mental condition, they must provide reasonable accommodation to help the employee do their job. Such accommodations that an employer may be required to give include providing paid leave during periods of sickness, create new hours for the employee, assign a supportive supervisor, and provide reasonable hours for the employee to attend medical appointments. For more information, contact our Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyers.

What to Do If You Were Wrongfully Terminated Because of Your Mental Disability?

If you believe that your employer wrongfully terminated you and violated your rights under the ADA, you may have the grounds to file a lawsuit against your employer. There is a process that you must follow in order to file a claim and get what you are entitled for discrimination termination. What is this procedure and what do you stand to win if you win the case?

How to File a Discrimination Charge: Before you slap a lawsuit on your employer’s desk and order that your demands be met, know that you must follow the proper procedure. You have to file an administrative charge of discrimination with a government agency, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces the ADA. There exist state government agencies which also enforce the ADA, and if your state does, then you can file your claim with your state’s government agency. You have either 180 or 300 days to file the charge to the government agency against your employer. In the state of California, you have 300 days from the date you believe you were discriminated against to file the charge.

In this charge to the government agency, again, either at the state or federal level,  you must describe the unlawful actions your employer committed against you and why you believe those actions to be unlawful. The government agency will then contact your employer about the charge. In most cases, they EEOC will give you a right-to-sue letter which, as the name suggests, gives you the right to sue your employer.

A qualified attorney can skip this procedure and request the letter immediately, if you are ready to sue right away. It is important to note, however, that you only have 90 days after you receive this letter to file the lawsuit against your employer. It is recommended that you only request this letter once you and your legal team are fully ready to proceed.

Damages Available to You If You Win

If you win the lawsuit against your employer, you may ask the court to reinstate you in the position you held with your ex-employer. Oftentimes, this is not feasible as there may be tension between you and the employer (due to the lawsuit you charged against them), and so reinstating you may not be the best course of action. It is more common to receive monetary compensation for the damages the discrimination discharge caused.

  • Back Pay – The wages, benefits, and out-of-pocket expenses that the employee (you) suffered as the result of the unlawful discrimination termination.
  • Front Pay – If you are unable to find a job for some time after your termination, front pay will compensate you for a specific period of time. Front pay does not apply if you were reinstated to the same job.
  • Emotional Distress – Getting fired for discrimination is not easy on the psyche, especially if one was fired for a mental illness over which they have no control. If the courts deem that you suffered emotional distress after the dismissal, you may be entitled to more pay.
  • Punitive Damages – Damages that your employer must pay for violating the law.

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