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Depression, anxiety, PTSD: Discrimination based on mental illness

Even though one in five Americans struggle with mental health issues each year, negative stereotypes persist and those who struggle receive little compassion. Many people hide these struggles from employers. The response of one employer to a request for mental health days offers a guide on what should occur.

And civilians are not the only affected. Veterans often suffer invisible scars left from the battlefield. PTSD can occur following any traumatic event and greater awareness helps people recognize symptoms, so they can seek care. June was actually PTSD awareness month. The failure of another employer to hire a veteran with a service dog is an example of what should not occur.

Mental health day message goes viral

You may have seen the interaction on social media. The web developer, who suffers from chronic depression and anxiety, used two sick days to focus on her mental health. Her CEO sent this response, “you are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

More than 10,000 retweets and 33,000 likes have sparked conversation. The lesson for employees is to be explicit. Mental health needs to be placed in the same category as the flu. It affects your ability to be productive.

Employers must create a culture where discussing mental health is okay. And accommodations, such as flexible scheduling, comfortable and private break rooms and noise abatement headphones can make all the difference.

Masking discriminatory employment actions

Our other story is the flip side: an example of what employers cannot do. It illustrates what frequently occurs in practice. A policy is blamed for an action that is in fact discriminatory. In this case, a veteran had a trained service dog to help him control symptoms of PTSD.

He applied for a truck driving program. He disclosed his disability and his use of a service dog. After successfully completed the training program, the company told him a “no pets” policy kept them from hiring him.

But it wasn't long before the company developed a “Service Dog Process” to offer an accommodation. The company was not willing to offer the veteran the opportunity to use the policy though.

The veteran brought a claim against the employer for disability discrimination. He is still asking that the company hires him, but that it pays back and front pay along with compensatory and punitive damages.

When you do the right thing and disclose a disability and then suffer a negative employment action, you have may have legal recourse. Federal and state law might provide remedies. An experienced employment attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of what happened to you.

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