In 2017, two employees of a non-profit organization that helps the homeless in Colorado filed lawsuits against their employer on the basis of discrimination. A case manager who had been with the company from 2006-2017 had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD after her former fiance assaulted her. While taking care of her mental health, she missed days of work. She received a doctor’s note tying her absences to her PTSD per her employer’s request, but she was ultimately fired for “excessive and unexcused absences.” She claimed her PTSD constituted a disability and that she was protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), making her termination illegal.
The second employee to take legal action against the organization, a program manager, filed a lawsuit on Nov. 6, 2017. Her lawsuit was unrelated to the previous employee’s suit. She claimed that she had been discriminated against, retaliated against, and wrongfully terminated. The program manager had worked for the non-profit for 16 years until another supervisor took charge of her department. Although several issues made her work environment a challenging one, it was not until the new supervisor arrived that her employment took a turn for the worse.
The new supervisor accused the program manager of being unprofessional, uncommunicative, and using her illnesses as an excuse to avoid company meetings. They also accused her of creating a toxic work environment. The employee believes she was fired over misusing leave; however, she claims to have been entitled to time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Both employees of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless have requested jury trials.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law protects employees suffering from depression, PTSD, and other mental health disorders from workplace discrimination and harassment due to their condition. If you have a mental health condition, you should know your rights in the workplace. If you’re an employer, you should understand these rights and your role in protecting them.
Employees have workplace privacy rights regarding any medical condition they may have. As an employee, you may also be entitled to a reasonable accommodation that can help you fulfill your work duties and keep your job. You also have rights and protections under the ADA and FMLA if you’re employed with a mental health condition.
Employers may not fire employees because of a mental health condition. They also can’t reject employees from a job or promotion or force them to take leave due to such disorders. As an employee, your employer must have objective evidence that you can’t perform your job duties or that you would create a safety risk to yourself or others even with reasonable accommodations in order to fire you legally.
For the most part, you can keep your mental health condition private. There are only a few limited situations in which employers may ask about your medical history:
A reasonable accommodation can keep you from performing below your best ability at work because of your mental health condition. You may request one from your supervisor or Human Resources department at any time. Some examples of reasonable accommodations for mental health include:
Employers looking to protect employees with mental health disorders may not know the appropriate actions to take to avoid a lawsuit. Attorney Nathan Davidovich of Denver has served employers for more than 55 years, providing competent legal counsel regarding current federal and state employment laws. At The Davidovich Law Firm, our goal is to help you protect your business and avoid adverse actions so you can maintain a healthy relationship with your employees.
For a consultation regarding workplace accommodations and other employment issues, contact Nathan by calling (303) 825-1325 or complete our contact form.