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How do you know if your workplace is discriminating?

Discrimination occurs when you are treated differently while performing your job duties because of your protected class. Under California law, this includes your: race, color, religion, sex (pregnancy or gender), sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, mental and physical disability (including HIV/AIDS), medical condition (cancer/genetic characteristics), age (40 and above), denial of family and medical care leave, and denial of pregnancy disability leave.

Discrimination can be overt meaning you were told, for example, that you were fired because you took maternity leave. This is a less likely scenario but it still occurs. Or it can be more subtle like you noticed that the only employees who receive promotions at your company are White. If you are in a protected category, pay attention to how you are treated at work vis-à-vis other employees who are not in this protected class. 

How can I protect my mental health at work?

Under California law, a mental health disability is a condition that limits a major life activity. This can include an intellectual disability, emotional illness, mental illness, or learning disability.

If you do have a mental health condition, you may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation, which you should utilize to help protect your mental health. Examples of accommodations can include: a quiet space for you to work uninterrupted, taking a protected leave, or needing assignments given to you in writing. Schedule a consultation with your health care provider to determine if you need a reasonable accommodation. If an accommodation does not pose an undue burden on your employer, you are legally entitled to it.

What measures can be taken to prevent mental health discrimination in the workplace?

Provide your employer with a doctor’s note that outlines your need for an accommodation. While this might not prevent the discrimination itself, it will put your employer on notice of your condition and help prove your case if discrimination does occur. Additionally, make yourself aware of your employer’s policies against discrimination, harassment, and leaves of absences.

Can an employer comment on your mental health?

An employer’s comments regarding an employee’s mental health can be used as evidence of discrimination. For example, if your supervisor regularly comments on you seeming depressed and then soon thereafter fires you, those comments will be used to prove that your employer was motivated to fire you because of your depression.

What counts as mental health discrimination in the workplace?  

Being treated differently while you are performing your job because of your metal health condition is discrimination. For example, if your employer knows or has reason to know that you are suffering from a mental health condition and starts taking your work assignments away or, alternatively, giving you more, that could be evidence of discrimination.

What rights do employees have in the workplace when it comes to their mental health? 

In California, you are entitled to a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. You are also entitled to workplace accommodations should you need them. As long as those accommodations do not pose an undue burden on your employer, you should utilize them to help alleviate symptoms. Consult with your health care provider to determine if you have a protected condition and need accommodations.

What to do if you suspect mental health discrimination at the workplace?

If you suspect you are experiencing mental health discrimination in the workplace, the most important thing to do is document it. Write detailed notes for yourself about what you’re experiencing, the comments being made to you, who is subjecting you to the treatment, and any complaints you have made verbally or in writing. Second, submit a written complaint to either your supervisor (if she/he/they is not the person subjecting you to the discrimination) or to Human Resources documenting what you are experiencing. Lastly, contact us and we would be happy to evaluate your case and advise you of your options. 

What is indirect discrimination in mental health?

Indirect discrimination may be harder to spot but it can carry the same weight as direct discrimination. Indirect discrimination occurs when there is a policy, for example, that applies to all employees but most negatively affects a particular group of people who share a protected characteristic.

How can companies take care of their employees’ mental health?

We dedicate a significant portion of our lives to work, which can be very stressful given all of life’s other responsibilities. Companies should create an environment that prioritizes employee work/life balance by not encouraging employees to bring work home with them. Companies should also require annual anti-discrimination and harassment training for all employees, and have clear disciplinary rules in place if discrimination or harassment does occur.