Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and many other mental conditions are serious and can seriously affect the lives of victims. In the workplace, someone who suffers from a mental illness is legally protected against discrimination in the workplace and harassment, as well as privacy rights. Employees may also have legal rights to accommodations to help them with their jobs. An employee with PTSD cannot be fired purely because of their condition.
What are Symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. These events include natural disasters, car accidents, and even sexual harassment. Common symptoms of PTSD include the following:
- Reoccurring and unwanted memories of the past traumatic event.
- Reliving the event in flashbacks.
- Upsetting dreams and nightmares.
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds the victim of the event.
- Avoidance of thinking or talking about the event.
- Avoiding places and people who remind a victim of the event.
- Negative thoughts.
- Memory problems.
- Lack of interest in activities.
- Trouble sleeping and concentrating.
Sharing a mental health diagnosis of PTSD is a victim’s own decision and should only be shared with people who are going to be understanding and supportive. Sometimes, an employer can be this person.
Legalities of Discrimination in the Workplace
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights that employees have at work. Employees may also have additional rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other medical insurance laws. These laws make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of their PTSD or any other disability. This applies to both physical and mental disabilities. If a disability does not prevent a person from performing a job, they cannot get fired, suspended, or demoted. Also, a physical or mental impairment does not need to be severe to be considered a disability.
If a person believes that they are experiencing disability discrimination at work, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can help them with what to do next. They will conduct an investigation if the victim files a charge of harassment and discrimination. The victim must file this charge within 180 days of the discrimination violation in order for legal action to begin.
Can I Keep My PTSD Private?
Having PTSD is not something a victim needs to tell anyone about unless it is needed for medical reasons. In most situations, a victim can keep their disability at work private. An employer is allowed to ask medical questions only in four different situations:
- When an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation.
- After an employer has made a job offer and before employment begins, as long as every other employee is asked the same questions.
- When the employer is engaging in affirmative action for people with disabilities, but an employee does not have to respond.
- If there is objective evidence while on the job that an employee is unable to do their job or if the employee poses a safety risk because of their condition.
Employees may need to discuss their PTSD to establish eligibility for benefits under laws, such as the FMLA. If a worker decides to talk about their condition with an employer, the employer cannot discriminate against the employee and must keep the information confidential from everyone at the company.
Discrimination based on a disability is illegal and an employer cannot discriminate against a worker if they believe that the worker has a disability or if the worker has records of having a mental or physical condition. Discriminating against someone who has PTSD can cause the condition to worsen and cause the worker to experience even more problems. PTSD is protected by the law and provides workplace safety and assurance to those who have this condition.
What Should I Do if I am Harassed at Work?
Discrimination in the workplace happens often, despite it being illegal. It is unlawful for an employer or co-worker to make fun of a disability or make a person feel uncomfortable while at work. Workers with disabilities also report that fellow employees have gone out of the way to make it difficult for them to perform their jobs. This is harassment and is prohibited from workplaces.
If a worker experienced harassment based on their disability, the worker should tell their employer right away. They are legally required to take action and stop any harassment from occurring in the future.
What is the Role of an Employer?
Employers need to be prepared to handle a wide variety of physical and mental disabilities, including the variety of issues that are related to PTSD. If they are not prepared or do not do their legal part to help their workers, they may face fines and other legal penalties. Employers should take all corrective actions to minimize damages and limit the potential for discrimination.
Accommodations for Disabilities
If an employee has a disability, they have a legal right to have reasonable accommodations from their employer. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are done at work. A few examples include:
- Altered break times
- Altered work schedules
- Quiet work environments
- Changes in supervisory methods, like written instructions from supervisors who normally give verbal instructions
- Specific shift assignments
- Work from home opportunities
These accommodations will ensure that employees with PTSD and other disabilities will be able to perform essential job duties.
If one needs reasonable accommodations, the first thing to do is to ask a supervisor or other appropriate person. One should tell an employer that accommodations are needed because of a medical condition. An employee can ask for an accommodation at any time but it is recommended to get reasonable accommodations before any problems occur at work. A worker is able to ask for specific accommodations that will help with their job performance.
After an employee talks to their employer, they may ask to put a request in writing. A worker will be asked to describe the condition and how it affects their work. They may also require a letter from a doctor as proof of mental health conditions and recommendations of accommodations to help the worker become successful at work. If reasonable accommodations will help, an employer must provide them unless it is significantly difficult or extremely costly.
If an employee is unable to do all of their job duties, even with reasonable accommodations, the employee may still be entitled to unpaid leave to help the worker get to the point where they can perform job duties. If an employee is unable to do all of the job duties, they may ask their employer for a job reassignment.
If an employer refuses to provide accommodations for a physical or mental disability, a worker has the right to take legal action against them.
Does My Disability Need to be Permanent to be Given Special Accommodations?
A disability does not need to be permanent or severe for a worker to be given accommodations at work. It does not matter if symptoms come and go or if they are constant, a worker is entitled to accommodations. Mental health conditions are not necessarily visible, but they still qualify for benefits. If a worker needs assistance with accommodations, they can also contact a lawyer.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Workers with PTSD
If you have been harassed, discriminated against, or denied reasonable accommodations because of your PTSD, contact one of our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. for legal advice. We will fight for your rights to compensation and ensure that your rights are protected. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free case consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.