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Mental Health Conditions: Resources for Job Seekers, Employees, and Employers

About one in five adults in the U.S. experienced a mental health issue in 2020. There are many different types of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In addition, a number of substance use disorders also are considered mental health conditions. These include alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder. About one in eight American adults had a substance use disorder in 2020.

People with mental health conditions may face discrimination in the workplace due to stigma or misunderstandings about mental health disorders. If you have a mental health condition, you may be protected against discrimination and harassment at work related to your condition, you have workplace confidentiality rights, and you may have a legal right to get reasonable accommodations that can help you perform and keep your job.

Employment Anti-Discrimination Laws

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 501) are the federal laws that protect people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, from discrimination at work. Employment actions taken against an individual who has a mental health condition or substance use disorder may violate these antidiscrimination laws.

In fiscal year 2021, the EEOC received about 8,400 charges from individuals alleging employment discrimination due to a mental health condition or substance use disorder.

Mental Health Conditions Can Be Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act explains who is protected from employment discrimination as an individual with a disability. Because major depressive disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia substantially limit brain function, individuals with these disorders will, in virtually all cases, be determined to have an ADA disability. Other mental health conditions may also be considered a disability.

Prior Illegal Use of Drugs

The ADA and Section 501 protect an individual who:

  • Has successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program;
  • Is taking prescribed Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to address an opioid or other substance use disorder; or
  • An employer mistakenly believes is engaging in current illegal use of drugs.

The ADA and Section 501 do not protect individuals who are currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs. In addition, employers may hold people who currently use drugs illegally and individuals with alcohol use disorder to the same performance standards as other employees.

Reasonable Accommodations

The law also requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability if they need it to perform an important job function, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

What to Do If You Think You Have Been Subjected to Discrimination

If you think an employer has unlawfully discriminated against you, you may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or with the state or local Fair Employment Practice Agency in your area. Because there are strict time limits for filing a discrimination charge to protect your rights, you should contact us as soon as possible. Our services are free, and you do not need a lawyer to file a complaint.

Time Limits

For claims against private or state and local government employers, employees or applicants have 180 days from the date of alleged discrimination to file a charge. The deadline is extended to 300 days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. Federal applicants and employees have 45 days from the date of alleged discrimination to contact an EEO counselor at their federal agency.

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