The Psych Central Report

Mental Illness in the Workplace:
Part 2: Rights and Responsibilities

By SS8282
April/May 2006

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In Part 2, I provided you with some guidelines on how to decide whether to disclose your illness, and how to approach your employer should you decide to tell them.

Now that you have spoken with your employer, what rights and responsibilities are you both entitled to?

Employer’s Rights

Your employer has a right to a productive employee.  You, as the employee, have been hired to do a job.  That’s what you are paid for.  The company may have some sort of an absenteeism policy that requires you to provide a medical certificate if you miss more than a specific number of days.  They have a right to have all employees comply with this policy.

Your employer has the right to know about your illness if they are to provide accommodations.  You need not give all the specific details, but there should be enough to justify the kinds of accommodations you need, and why your employer should spend money to accommodate you.  It is not reasonable to expect accommodations without giving a good reason. It would be difficult for your employer to provide support if they do not know what it is for and why. You need to help them to understand your illness - what works for you, what does not.

Employer’s Responsibilities

It is your employer’s responsibility to provide accommodations. In the event that providing accommodations causes undue hardship (i.e. – too costly, or they affect the health and safety of you or other people in the organization), the employer does not have to provide accommodations under these circumstances; however, proving that falls on the shoulders of the employer.

They have the responsibility to implement and enforce the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy in the workplace. In fact, discrimination and harassment are against the law.  This is important, as disability (which includes mental health) is one of the protected categories under Human Rights.

This includes providing and supporting the kind of environment where you can thrive and get better. This includes letting you know what health benefits you are entitled to.

The employer has the responsibility to maintain confidentiality, in particular, in the Human Resources department.

Employee’s Rights

As an employee, you have the right to work in a safe environment, free from discrimination and harassment.  It is your employer’s responsibility to take steps and enforce the anti-discrimination and harassment policy.

You also have the right to receive accommodations due to your illness.  There is no list of reasonable accommodations to choose from. Talk to your employer.  Take into consideration what you need and what resources are available, and together, you and your employer can establish accommodations that will work for both of you.

You also are entitled to the right of confidentiality.  The only people who should know about your illness, within the company, are the people you told, unless you have given permission for someone else to disclose your illness.

You have the right to ask your employer what kind of benefits are available to you, such as short- or long-term disability, and the procedure for claiming those.

Employee’s Responsibilities

You have the responsibility to ensure that you follow all relevant policies, such as sick days or absenteeism policy, and short and long-term policies.  Perhaps there is an EAP (Employee Assistant Program) available.  You may also check with your insurance company to see what you are covered under. 

If you believe that something is amiss, for example, not receiving your pay, experiencing harassment, demotion, hostile environment, etc., you might want to consult a lawyer, or call the Human Rights Commission or its equivalent in your area.

It is very important that you obtain some support outside of work. You have to focus on getting well, and it is very difficult to act on your rights and responsibilities due to your illness. 

I cannot stress enough that you need to look out for your best interest in both your health and career.  This is where your support group, be it family or friends, comes in.  They can help make phone calls for you, help you fill out forms, and make sure things are done on time. For example, if you have been on short-term disability, and you need more time off than the time the policy allotted, then you need to fill out forms to change your status to long-lerm disability. There is usually a certain window of time where you can do that. If you do not get your paperwork done on time, then you may not receive all the benefits you are entitled to, and more paperwork will be involved to ‘activate’ your status.

Knowing and acting on your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of your employer, are ways to protect yourself. Help your employer understand your illness. By helping them, you are helping yourself too.

In the next issue of the newsletter, I will be discussing whether you need to talk to your co-workers and related issues.  

Last updated: 13 Apr 2006
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Apr 2006
    Published on All rights reserved.