Can an Employee Be Fired for Mental Illness?

Mental illness does not mean unemployable.
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protection against discrimination for employees with mental illness. This means if you suffer from conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, your boss cannot fire you simply because of your diagnosis. In fact, your employer may be required to make certain accommodations to make it feasible for you to do your job while managing your condition.


    Before you qualify for protection under ADA, you must inform your employer of your condition. Keep in mind that while the act protects you from being fired for mental illness, you may have difficulty fighting your employer's preconceived fears and concerns. Many people still fear that all mentally ill are dangerous, unpredictable, overly emotional or unreliable. Your job may be safe, but you may face this stigma of being unbalanced, you may have to prove yourself as competent even if you were an exceptional employee before you admitted to this condition.


    If your employer meets certain guidelines, such as employing at least 15 people, he must make reasonable accommodations to allow you to do your job while taking care of your illness. Accommodations may include taking off work for therapy sessions, reducing stress levels by adjusting your workload or removing tight deadlines. Once accommodations have been made, it's up to you to do the job faithfully. Your boss still has the right to fire you if you cannot do the job you were hired to do.


    Your boss can fire you if you pose a threat to his business or to co-workers. He has a responsibility to protect his customers and other employees if you exhibit dangerous behavior, such as falling asleep driving a company vehicle or threatening to harm yourself or others. This is one reason you must take care of your health and maintain control over your condition.


    While your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations to help you keep your job, he's not required to undergo undue hardship. What constitutes a hardship is dependent on your job duties. If you run a one-person office, your employer will find it a lot harder to give you time off from work than an employer who has a dozen employees to cover work load. If your job requires you to travel frequently, your duties may not be able to be redesigned to give you time off in town twice a week for doctor appointments. The only way to determine what is an undue hardship for your employer is to have a frank discussion.

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