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Federal Employment Law
What Federal Employees Should Know About Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health in the federal workplace is a dynamic issue due to our society’s rapidly changing views about mental health.

Not long ago, even mild mental health conditions could lead to office suspicion, hostility, retaliation, and removal from the service.

Fortunately, things have improved significantly during the past few decades.

There is more awareness regarding the treatment of mental health in the federal workplace and more understanding of the nature of mental illness itself. 

Despite those advances, many federal employees who struggle with mental illness are still in the dark when it comes to their rights and entitlements.

Read on to learn more about your rights as a federal employee regarding mental health in the workplace.

Contact a qualified federal employment attorney today if you have more questions or think you may be suffering from discrimination. 

Your Rights as a Federal Employee with a Mental Health Condition

The most important thing to remember is that you are protected against discrimination and harassment based on your mental health conditions.

Various laws also guarantee the right to keep your condition private, seek reasonable accommodation, and request unpaid leave to treat the condition. 

Protection Against Harassment and Discrimination Based on Mental Health

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with mental health conditions receive significant civil rights protections.

The ADA, which protects those with both physical and mental disabilities, prohibits discrimination and harassment against a person based on mental impairment.

It also protects individuals who have had a history of mental illness or who are generally regarded as having a mental impairment.

What do the ADA’s discrimination and harassment protections entail? For one, they prohibit your employer from treating you differently simply because of your mental illness.

Discrimination can incorporate all kinds of different behaviors, including:

  • Not receiving the promotion you deserve because of your mental illness;
  • Being fired or demoted after you reveal that you have a mental illness;
  • Losing training opportunities or job responsibilities; and
  • Receiving less pay or fewer benefits because of your condition. 

The ADA also prohibits harassment against any federal employees because of their mental health conditions.

Legally speaking, harassment is any offensive or unwelcome conduct that becomes so severe or pervasive that it makes your working environment hostile.

Countless kinds of behaviors can contribute to a hostile work environment. A few examples include:

  • Offensive jokes,
  • Stereotypes,
  • Slurs,
  • Social exclusion,
  • Physical assault,
  • Threats of physical assault,
  • “Gaslighting,” and
  • Social exclusion.

None of these behaviors are acceptable or legal. If you are suffering from either discrimination or harassment, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and receive significant monetary compensation. 

The Opportunity to Request and Receive Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA further requires the government to make reasonable accommodations for individuals who have difficulties performing the essential functions of their job because of their mental health conditions.

Under the ADA, an impairment or disability is any condition that affects a major life activity. And major life activities include all kinds of things, including eating, thinking, moving, and taking care of yourself.

Consequently, virtually every mental health illness can qualify for some kind of reasonable accommodation. 

Reasonable accommodations can relate to virtually every aspect of your federal job. You can ask for a reasonable accommodation to your work environment or to a hiring process.

In addition, you can seek to effect changes in the way you do your job.

Provided your requested accommodation does not create an undue hardship on your employer or change the fundamental duties of your position, it will generally be considered reasonable under the ADA. 

The Right to Medical Confidentiality

Although federal employees with mental health conditions may have to disclose those conditions under certain circumstances, they are entitled to medical confidentiality.

Title 1 of the ADA requires employers to place mental health information on separate forms and medical files. In addition, those documents must be treated as confidential medical records.

There are only three exceptions to this confidentiality requirement. First, your supervisor or director may obtain information regarding the ways in which your condition affects your work.

Second, your employer may disclose your condition to first aid or agency safety personnel if you need emergency treatment.

Finally, your employer may provide your information to adhere to a government compliance investigation. 

Want to Learn More About How to Prove Disability Discrimination in the Federal Workplace?

At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, we dedicate ourselves to advancing the rights and welfare of federal employees with mental health conditions.

The thought of any federal employee suffering from disability discrimination or harassment is simply unacceptable to us.

As soon as you reach out to us, we’ll do everything possible to protect your rights. And if you have been harmed through disability discrimination or harassment, we will do our best to get you the compensation you deserve.

Give us a call at (833) 833-3529 or contact us online. 

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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