Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights

Understanding Your Legal Rights as an Employee with Mental Health Conditions in California

As an employee in California, you have certain legal rights when managing conditions of mental health in the workplace. This guide from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is intended to provide clear and detailed information on the protections offered to employees by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA) of 1974.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is an essential part of overall well-being and encompasses a broad range of issues that can majorly impact a person's daily life. Mental health is a state of well-being that allows an individual to successfully cope with normal stressors encountered in daily life, work productively, and contribute to their community.

Mental health conditions can vary, ranging from:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • & Post-traumatic stress disorder

to unrecognized or misunderstood mental health issues. Having positive mental health means having the capacity to recognize and manage our emotions, develop relationships with others, and cope with life stressors. It also means having the ability to manage and cope with life changes and setbacks in healthy ways. Additionally, it is important to understand that mental health is dynamic and constantly in flux, meaning positive mental health can be maintained through mindful and compassionate self-care practices.

ADA/RA Protections For People With Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA) protect people with mental health conditions from being discriminated against in terms of recruitment, hiring, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and any other term or condition of employment. The ADA states that it is illegal for an employer to make decisions based on a person's mental health condition, including asking questions about their symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis during the application process.

Under the ADA and the RA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with mental health conditions. Examples of these reasonable accommodations can include:

  • allowing flexible work schedules
  • adjusting start and stop times
  • giving extra breaks
  • providing ergonomic furniture
  • providing access to mental health resources,
  • or modifying job duties or rewards and discipline systems.

In addition to preventing discrimination, the ADA and the RA protect employees from retaliation due to their disability or request for a reasonable accommodation. If an employer takes negative action against an employee due to a need for a reasonable accommodation for a mental health condition, the employee has the right to take action. Contact our employee rights lawyer today if you need help.

Questions that Employers Cannot Ask

It is illegal for employers to ask job applicants questions about a mental health condition during the application process. This includes questions about a person's symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.

Employers are restricted in the type of medical-related questions they can ask before extending a job offer. If an employer has disability-related inquiries, they must be limited to only those related to the job, failure to which an employment lawyer can be used to file against any violation that may emerge.

Accommodations for Employees With Mental Health Conditions

The ADA and RA laws provide clear guidance to employers in California on the types of accommodations they should provide to employees with mental health conditions. Accommodations may include allowing flexible work schedules, adjusting start and stop times, providing ergonomic furniture, allowing access to mental health resources, and making other changes to the work environment to aid in the employee's ability to perform essential job functions. Employers must also make allowances for breaks, extra days off, modified job duties, and telecommuting.

It is also important for employers to ensure that their rewards and discipline systems are adjusted for those with mental health conditions, such as reducing performance ratings for absentees due to illness or providing more guidance and support during difficult periods. Accommodations should be tailored to the individual and provide them with the necessary support to feel safe, secure, and valued in the workplace.

Protection from Retaliation

Protection from retaliation is an important legal right for employees in California with mental health conditions. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for requesting a reasonable accommodation or disclosing their mental health condition. Retaliation may come from termination, demotion, cutting hours, reducing pay, denying promotions, or other negative job-related actions. It is illegal for an employer to punish an employee because of their disability or for requesting accommodation for their mental health condition.

Moreover, even if the employer does not take any retaliatory action directly, they cannot allow a hostile work environment to exist, as this is considered a form of retaliation and is unlawful. Employees should also be aware that they cannot be retaliated against for refusing to participate in activities that could worsen their mental health. If employees believe they have been subjected to retaliation due to their mental health condition, they should contact their local EEOC office.

Taking Action

Suppose you believe your employer is not providing reasonable accommodations or has retaliated against you due to a mental health condition in California. In that case, you have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and you can consult with the employment lawyer to get full directives. The EEOC enforces both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA), which prohibit discrimination based on a disability or the need for reasonable accommodation.

To file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, you will need to provide information about the nature of the complaint and the employer or other entities you believe have violated the law. You also need to certify that the information you provide is true to the best of your knowledge. Upon receipt of a charge, the EEOC will investigate whether there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred.

The EEOC encourages individuals to attempt to resolve a dispute through the informal complaint process before filing a charge of discrimination, where they can collaborate with an employment lawyer. If mediation or other informal methods do not resolve the dispute, you may file an official charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The charge must be filed within a certain amount of time (varies by state), typically 180 days, unless another law extends the time frame.

You can file a charge by contacting Bear Law- you have rights and it's our job to ensure they are protected.


Employees in California with mental health in the workplace are entitled to various rights and protections under the ADA and RA. The ADA and RA laws dictate that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with mental health conditions and should not discriminate or retaliate against an employee based on their disability.

If you believe your rights have been violated, it is important to take action by contacting Bear Law. Taking the initiative to stand up for your rights is a courageous step, and it could make a positive difference for you and others in similar situations.

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