mental illness discrimination

Federal, state, and local laws protect employees against discrimination based on their mental illness. Mental illness discrimination in the workplace can take place in many different forms. An employer might pass an employee with mental illness up for a promotion. An employer might also reduce an employee’s hours after finding out that the employee has received a mental illness diagnosis.

If you have faced discrimination based on your actual or perceived mental illness at work, you might have a valid discrimination claim. Under federal and local laws, you might be able to recover compensation for the discrimination you’ve experienced. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, our experienced mental illness discrimination lawyers have helped many clients recover compensation and restitution from their employers throughout New York. Contact our New York employment law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.

Mental Disabilities and the ADA 

Mental illnesses in the workplace are more common than most people realize. Unfortunately, mental illness is often misunderstood and stigmatized by employers and co-workers. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or bodily functions. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) recently expanded the definition of disability to protect more individuals with psychiatric disabilities. 

Under the terms of the ADA, a person’s mental impairment must substantially limit a major life activity or major bodily function. The ADA does not include an extensive or definitive list of mental illnesses that qualify as disabilities. Instead, the law focuses on whether or not the condition limits at least one of the employee’s bodily functions or major life activities. Mental impairments that can qualify an employee for protection under the ADA often include the following conditions:

  • Major depression
  • Anxiety disorders or panic attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Personality disorders
  • Intellectual disabilities 
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Employees must prove that they have a record, or history, of a psychiatric disability, or that they are perceived as having a psychiatric disability. Employees with psychiatric disabilities have a right to privacy regarding their disability, except when they ask their employer to make accommodations based on their psychiatric disability. Second, they have a right to reasonable accommodations unless doing so causes undue hardship for the employer.

New York City Law Also Prohibits Discrimination Based on Mental Illness

The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits employers from engaging in employment discrimination based on mental illness. The federal ADA only applies to government employers and private employers with 15 or more employees. New York City’s law covers employers with four or more employees. New York State’s Human Rights Law also protects employees against discrimination based on mental illness. 

The law specifically protects employees with a mental or psychological impairment or a record or history of mental or psychological impairment. Similar to the ADA, employers cannot discriminate against employees based on an actual or perceived mental health condition in any of the following ways:

  • Job postings, interviews, and hiring
  • Salary and employment benefits
  • Job performance evaluations
  • Demotions and promotions
  • Employee discipline
  • Terminations
  • Any other decision that will affect the terms and conditions of employment

Reasonable Accommodations for Mental Illness

The ADA, New York State, and New York City laws require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with a qualifying mental illness. Employers must make any changes to the office that are necessary to allow the employee to do their job without any impediments. 

Employers must make reasonable accommodations unless the accommodations are too expensive or difficult for the employer to make. When an employee requests an accommodation, an employer cannot retaliate against that employee. 

Accommodations for mental illnesses might include the following:

  • A less noisy workplace
  • A modified schedule
  • More assistance tracking the employee’s workload and assignments
  • Memory aids, whiteboards, or tape recorders to help with memory and organization
  • White noise machines, noise-canceling headphones, or natural light

The Family Medical Leave Act Lawyers

The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees and certain family members to take time off work for the treatment of disabilities. Many employees who have a diagnosed mental illness have a right to take medical leave under the FMLA. An employee can take up to 12 weeks per calendar year off to manage or treat a disability. The employee must have a qualifying short term illness or disability. The employer must keep the employee’s position open for them when they return from their FMLA leave. 

An employee who has a qualifying mental illness has a legal right to seek treatment in an outpatient or inpatient facility for up to 12 weeks a year, for example. Employers cannot retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under the FMLA. For example, if an employee misses five weeks of work to attend an inpatient treatment facility for depression, anxiety, bulimia, or any other diagnosed mental illness, the employer cannot retaliate against the employee by taking any of the following actions:

  • Terminating the employee’s job
  • Lowering the employee’s salary or hourly pay rate
  • Giving the employee the assignments that nobody else wants
  • Failing to promote the employee because of the use of FMLA

At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we have helped many New York City employees enforce their rights under the FMLA. We will evaluate your record at work and find evidence to show that the pretextual reasons for your employer’s retaliatory actions happened after your employer learned of your mental illness. 

Contact Our Mental Illness Discrimination Lawyers Today 

If you live in the metro New York area and have experienced discrimination based on your mental illness or psychiatric condition, you might be entitled to compensation and restitution. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we have helped many clients succeed in disability discrimination cases against their employers. Contact our experienced discrimination lawyers today to schedule your initial consultation.