Employment Rights

Two Federal laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA) and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of mental illness or disability.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Act protects employees and job applicants against employment discrimination when it involves:

  • Unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
  • Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace, because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
  • Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that the employee needs because of religious beliefs or disability.
  • Retaliation because the employee complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

For more information visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Web Site at: www.eeoc.gov. Or call 1-800 669-4000. Specific information regarding discrimination due to a mental health issue can be accessed by going to the Disability tab on the Employee & Applicants pulldown.


The Americans with Disability Act defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more life activities. These life activities could be mobility, reading, learning or working. Mental illnesses that impair day to day function are covered under this Act under Employment (Title I).

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, State and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including State and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations. Specifics include:

Hiring Process

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against people with mental illnesses during the hiring process. This does not mean that mentally ill people are given preference over the non-mentally ill. Rather, hiring decisions are made without regard to an applicant’s mental status. The ADA also prohibits employers from offering a lower salary to someone with a mental illness and requires that mentally ill employees receive the same health care options as other workers.

Providing Accommodations

The ADA requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for a mentally ill worker to permit the person to perform essential job duties. These may include restructuring the job requirements, modifying work schedules or providing interpreters and learning devices. If, however, an employer can demonstrate that providing accommodations for an employee with a disability would be create significant difficulty or expense, he may elect not to provide the accommodations.

Disclosure of Disability

You are not required by law to disclose a mental illness to a prospective or current employer. Mental Health Works advises mentally ill workers not to disclose their mental illness if it does not affect work attendance or performance. If you choose to submit a claim for accommodations or are having difficulty performing your job duties because of your illness, you must disclose the information to your employer to prevent unlawful termination of your position.


If a potential employer thinks a mentally ill person poses a direct threat to the safety of himself or others, the employer is not required to hire that person. This only pertains if there is objective evidence suggesting that the person’s presence poses a threat. The employer must also consider whether reasonable accommodations would eliminate the threat.


If you think you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of a mental illness, you can file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Contact a lawyer for further advice about your particular situation. Additional laws vary by state.


  • For more information about the ADA, visit The Americans with Disabilities Acts web site at: http://www.ada.gov/. Phone Number call in: ¬†800-514-0301
  • For more information on employment law:¬†Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law Web Site: http://www.bazelon.org. Phone Number call in: 202-467-5730