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Seeking workplace accommodations for mental illness

If you deal with a mental health condition, you may prefer to keep it to yourself. You may have had your fill of those who misunderstand your illness, make unfair assumptions about you or are simply happy to remain ignorant of the reality of mental illness and its effects on your life.

Nevertheless, if your mental illness requires you to seek workplace accommodations, you should be prepared to share at least some information with your employer. You should also obtain as much information as possible about your rights as an employee and the steps you must take to maximize your chances of being successful in your job.

Reasonable requests

The Americans with Disabilities Act allows those with diagnosed medical conditions to request reasonable modifications at work so they can perform their jobs. Reasonable accommodations may be changes in the physical layout, in the non-essential tasks, or other modifications that do not create a burden for your employer or co-workers. For someone who uses a wheelchair, it may be easier for an employer to recognize the need for accommodations. With a mental illness, you will likely have to bring your needs to your employer's attention.

You cannot expect your employer to automatically know you have an invisible condition, so you should be prepared to discuss your situation with your boss. However, be aware of your rights, how much you must disclose and the limitations on your employer, for example:

  • You may find it helpful to open lines of communication with your employer so he or she understands the barriers you face with your mental health issues.
  • You may have to present medical evidence to confirm your condition, such as documentation from your health care professional.
  • Your employer will want reassurance that you can perform the essential functions of the job.
  • It may expedite the process if you can offer suggestions and alternatives for accommodations that will benefit you, such as a flexible schedule, more private workspace or a different way of organizing assignments and instructions.
  • You should keep a log of the agreed upon changes and whether your employer is supportive throughout the process.
  • You and your employer may need to meet periodically to determine if it is necessary to adjust the accommodations.

If you find that your employer is less than willing to accommodate your mental illness in the workplace or you meet with other negative reactions once you disclose your condition, you may wish to reach out to a California attorney who can assist you in fighting for your rights in the workplace.

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