Can You Ask Your Boss for Work Adjustments if You Suffer From a Mental Health Condition?

The above is an illustration of two women. One woman is consoling the other who is distressed.

Requesting Work Adjustments for Your Mental Health Condition: A Guide

In the past, the only conditions and disabilities acknowledged by employers were physical ones. Even then, they only did so after a series of intrusive processes to 'prove' that accommodations were necessary. Thankfully, if there's any upside to the current global pandemic, it's that increased stress and anxiety responses in everyone force employers and employees alike to destigmatize mental health issues and make treating them a priority.

Finding employment with a mental health condition can be difficult. It's easy to feel unsupported by a work life and society that seems to value productivity over all else. However, you can ask for support from your boss when you need it. Here's what you need to know.

What Are Your Basic Rights?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law protects you from workplace discrimination and harassment based on your mental health condition. Your employer can't force you to divulge information about your condition against your will, and you may request accommodations to improve your job performance.

Mental Health Protection FAQs

While the above summarizes the protections offered by the EEOC, it doesn't cover everything. Below, we have some frequently asked questions about mental health-related worker rights.

Can My Boss Fire Me for Having a Mental Health Condition?

The simple answer to this question is, "No, that's against the law." The more complex answer is that, while your employer is by no means obligated to keep you aboard if their standards aren't met, they also can't use outdated stereotypes or misconceptions about mental illness to force you out of a job.

If they fire you after your mental health condition becomes known, then they must prove that they've tried to accommodate you in the past, and/or that your presence on the job provides a clear and objective danger to yourself or others.

Do I Have to Tell My Boss About My Condition?

Again, the simple answer is, "No, you have just as much of a right to medical privacy as your neurotypical coworkers." However, reality is more complex. In general, your employer cannot ask you medical questions. If you share medical information with them, they cannot discuss that with your coworkers.

However, there are four circumstances under which an employer may ask about your mental health or other medical conditions. These circumstances include:

  • After making an employment offer, but only if all prospective workers get asked the same questions
  • On the job after objective evidence has proven that you cannot perform your duties due to your condition
  • If the employer is engaged in affirmative action for disabled people
  • When you request accommodation for your condition

If none of these four circumstances are met, then they cannot press you for information about your mental health condition. Speaking of seeking accommodations:

What Counts As a Reasonable Accommodation?

A "reasonable accommodation" is any accommodation that an employer can provide for your mental health condition that doesn't pose a safety risk to others or prove too burdensome. The exact line for what counts as reasonable versus unreasonable depends on the employer in question. Below, we have some accommodations that are fairly standard for mental health conditions:

Working from Home

Let's face it; for many of us, our home is our safe space. If you suffer from high levels of anxiety and depression, going into work can be a stressful experience. Having the option to work from home offers you a chance to perform your duties from a comfortable and safe space where you can retreat if need be.

Flexible Shifts

Finding work and working with a mental illness is difficult. Some days, you can almost function like your non-disabled coworkers. Others, it's a struggle to get out of bed.

Sometimes you think you have the mental or emotional battery to power through the day. Then, you find yourself bottomed out about halfway through. When this happens, having the option to work rotating or flexible shifts will allow you to work when you have the energy to do so and rest when you need it.

Decompression Zones

Many of us have had the unpleasant and unfortunate experience of having a panic attack or PTSD episode at work. When this happens, places without mental health support force you to compose yourself in the bathroom.

Whether your employer lets you step outside and take a walk to calm down or designates an area in the break room as a decompression zone, having a safe place to work through your panic attack where you won't get disturbed is a good thing to request.

Service Animals

It's science: dogs have beneficial effects on our mental health. They can be trained to spot signs of distress or mental health emergency, rushing to offer crucial service and support during an episode. Service animals are one of the more difficult accommodations to request. However, if your condition will benefit from it, see if they'll approve it.

How to Ask for Help for Your Mental Health Condition

No one wants to have a conversation with their employer about their mental health condition. We completely understand this. However, if you don't ask for help early on and only do so when your job performance suffers, your employer won't feel so accommodating of your requests.

Don't apologize for being a burden to them or try to belittle or downplay your condition. Stay firm, but professional, in your request. Tell them gently, but in no uncertain terms, what accommodations you feel would help you perform your job duties to your full potential.

If you do that, you should be able to receive some work flexibility.

Let's Recap

When you've been diagnosed with a mental health condition, figuring out how to work with and around it is difficult. However, the law is on your side when it comes to requesting accommodations.

If you find that your current employer isn't willing to accommodate you, you can update your resume on our website. We at Disabled Person are happy to help you find a more accommodating employer because everyone deserves the chance to work.