Advancing Equal Access 1990-2015One in three Social Security disability beneficiaries has a mental illness. For many coping with a mental illness, the road to finding a job is not easy and commonly takes more than one attempt with help from work incentives, like Expedited Reinstatement.

In recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month this month, and celebrating 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), we answer the question: How are people with mental illness protected against discrimination in the workplace?

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How the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Protects People with Mental Illness

May 28, 2015

Advancing Equal Access 1990-2015One in three Social Security disability beneficiaries has a mental illness. For many coping with a mental illness, the road to finding a job is not easy and commonly takes more than one attempt with help from Work Incentives, like Expedited Reinstatement.  

In recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month this month, and celebrating 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), we answer the question: How are people with mental illness protected against discrimination in the workplace?

The ADA's definition of "disability" includes people with mental illnesses who have a physical or mental impairment that greatly limits one or more major life activity.

The ADA protects people with a mental illness by way of:

  • Anti-discrimination rules - Title I of the ADA blocks private employers from discriminating against suitable people with disabilities - including those with a mental illness - when they are applying for jobs. The rule also protects people with disabilities and mental illnesses in situations related to promotions, firing, payment and other freedoms of employment.

  • Requirements for job accommodations - Under the ADA, an employer must provide "reasonable accommodations" to qualified employees with disabilities.  Reasonable accommodations are changes to a work setting that allow you to perform your job tasks.  Accommodations may include supports such as assistive technology, changes to work settings or adjusted work schedules.

If you are an employee with a mental illness, your employer has to make reasonable accommodations if they know about your condition. Under Title I of the ADA, there are two exceptions to this requirement:

  • An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it will present an "undue hardship" on the business. For example if accommodations are very costly or would deeply alter the nature of the business.
  • An employer may refuse to hire or accommodate an individual who poses a "direct threat" to the health or safety in the workplace. That determination must be based on evidence from a healthcare provider or other source, and not on personal fears and stigmas about mental illness.

Examples of reasonable accommodations for people with mental illnesses are:

  • Flexible hours

  • Adjusted job tasks
  • Leave (paid or unpaid) during periods of illness or hospitalization
  • Being assigned a supportive and understanding boss
  • Regular guidance and feedback about job performance

You can find more examples of frequently used workplace accommodations for people with psychiatric disabilities here. For more on job accommodations for people with mental illnesses, visit the Job Accommodation Network's (JAN) website or call their free help line at 1-800-526-7234 (V/TTY).

If you are an employee or job-seeker with a mental illness, and you believe that you have experienced employment discrimination, you have the right to file an administrative "charge" under Title I of the ADA with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Contact the Commission at 800-669-4000. Social Security beneficiaries who receive SSDI or SSI may receive legal advice and services through a program called Protection & Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS). Learn more about PABSS here.

You can also find answers to common questions about the ADA and persons with psychiatric disabilities here.

Are you or someone you know receiving disability benefits and want to work? The Ticket to Work program has helped people with mental illnesses find the services and support they need to reach financial independence. Read Success Stories of Cherie Cummings, Jason Faust and Megan Riggs, who have managed their mental illnesses, and taken advantage of the Ticket to Work program and its Work Incentives.

Call 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) to talk to someone about your situation and how Ticket to Work can help you.