Thanks to several labor laws that exist in the United States, it is harder for employers to hire and fire employees based on factors such as sex, age, religion, and others that don’t even affect the job description. After all, your sex does not determine how well you can work in accounting, nor does being a different race affect your ability to be a professor in a university. Not only do these laws protect employees’ rights, these also promote diversity and attract better employees based on skill and experience.
One of the most debated factors on this list is a job applicant’s mental health. Currently, it’s on the same list as factors employers can’t discriminate against. In job interviews, employers aren’t even allowed to ask questions about mental health. However, some employers are calling for a change.
Employees & Mental Health
Last March, reports were uncovered that showed 189 emergency 911 calls from 46 Amazon facilities from 2013 to 2018. These calls were made due to mental breakdowns and suicide attempts allegedly due to the poor working conditions of the office. Had Amazon screened their employees for mental disabilities such as depression and anxiety, would this have prevented the case?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act and other labor laws, employers cannot ask their job applicants about their medical status, which also includes their mental health. Employees can choose to refuse answering the question or voluntarily disclose they have a mental condition if they see fit, but nowadays, most employers would rather be kept in the dark about an employee’s mental illness. If they ever terminate said employee or choose another employee for a promotion, the employee with mental disabilities may sue for discrimination even when it isn’t the case.The employer must base their hiring decisions off the applicant’s skills, past experience, and recommendations, if they have any.
However, there are exceptions to the rule.
Can You Perform Despite Your Mental Condition?
While employers can’t ask for mental health conditions, they may perform evaluations and exams to see if the employees are mentally for the job. Because of labor laws, there is a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy between the employer and employee when it comes to the employee’s mental health.
They may even perform exams or evaluations to see if the applicant is a good for the job. This is especially important for jobs with high-stakes or safety risks. For example, a school bus driver is responsible for the lives of around 50 to 60 children at a time. Not only do they need to be of sound mind, they also need to have zero history of drunk driving, which means looking into their applicants’ criminal history for DUIs or other car-related accidents. From their history and other evaluations, employers may see signs hinting at mental disabilities that might affect their work.
In many cases, however, people with mental disabilities are still capable of fulfilling their job description. People with schizoid personality disorder, for example, are incapable of forming strong social relationships. However, they’re still capable of performing well at work whether alone or with a team. They may not attend company team building sessions or go out with their colleagues after work, but because their mental disability isn’t going to affect their work, employers cannot base their rejection on the fact that an applicant has this personality disorder.
What Happens If a Potential Employer Discriminates Against Me?
Employee discrimination laws vary according to state. Under federal labor laws, however, discrimination against mental disabilities is a crime. For example, under the State of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment, there are rules against employers discriminating employment based on several factors, including race, nationality, sex, age, and mental and physical disability.
Let’s say you are diagnosed with depression and happen to find a job in Denver. You have a good record, great set of skills, and good references, so you don’t hesitate to tell your potential employer about your depression because it won’t affect your work ethic. However, the employer takes this against you and now refuses to have you in the company. This is a violation and a case for employment discrimination. In such cases where they refuse, employment attorneys can guide you to take legal action against the employer.
Overall, an employer cannot discriminate against potential employees based on their mental disability. Despite their condition, these employees may still be capable of being productive employees that will help the company grow. While employers are not allowed to ask about mental disability, they can use other means of evaluation to see if an employee is emotionally and mentally fit for the job. An employee can disclose their disability, but based on labor laws, this is not necessary.
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