People often announce jokingly that they’re depressed because something didn’t happen the way they wanted it to happen. Sometimes, a person may dramatically lower their shoulders and say, “I’m depressed,” in a way that others understand is a passing disappointment. (In fact, psychologists have worried for years that these sorts of glib references to “depression” may only diminish the real seriousness of clinical major depression.)
Feeling sad and confused after breaking up with an intimate partner is to be expected. Sometimes, though, that sadness can deepen into something more permanent and debilitating. Feeling angry and sad is also natural and normal if a co-worker is awarded a higher-paying job title that you don’t think they deserved; but if you get sadder and angrier with each passing day and begin to have trouble sleeping or eating, the issue may need attention from a doctor.
Everybody experiences unsettling emotions. In most cases, we stew about them for a while, go through various stages of deciding how to deal with our disappointment, and move on. With the help of family and friends, many of us find it easier to rebound from a setback we weren’t expecting. The passing of time can also help put things in perspective, as new situations arise that provide a sense of hope and confidence about the future.
For some people, depression is a black hole with no exit. It doesn’t “go away” and it’s relentless in attacking a person’s ability to work or perform basic daily tasks. People with major depressive disorder (MDD) may either sleep too much or can’t sleep at all, eat too much or not all, and feel hopeless, worthless, and severely despondent. They view life as meaningless, suffer intense anxiety and worry about things that may or may not happen, and frequently think about suicide.
The Impact of Major Depressive Order in a Job?
Although rates of major depression among U.S. adults were high before the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of adults presenting symptoms of MDD skyrocketed to 41.5 percent between August 2020 and February 2021. Exacerbating this significant increase in MDD is the alarming rate of people–nearly 26 percent– who report waiting for over a week to receive appropriate mental health care or being forced to make the decision to pay for food or mental health care.
Major depressive disorder is not only physically and mentally debilitating but acutely interferes with cognition. MDD impairs your ability to memorize, concentrate, complete tasks, and understand new information. People in therapy for MDD have described depression as a “slowing down of everything, your thoughts, movements, and motivation. You can’t do anything except breathe.”
What happens to individuals who can no longer work because of depression? How does employment law handle depression in employees who need to take a leave of absence for depression treatment?
How Americans with Disabilities Act Handles Depression in a Job
Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been protecting U.S. employees from being discriminated against or fired because they have a physical or mental disability. After an ADA amendment passed in 2009, it is now illegal for an employer to fire an employee if:
- They have mental or physical impairments that substantially limit at least one major life activity
- They have a history of a disability
- The employer believes an employee has a disability, even though that employee does not have a disability
- The employee has a record of, or is being regarded by others, as having a disability
If a person cannot perform their usual work duties due to depression (or other mental illness), they must inform their employer about their illness. ADA laws do not protect employees from being fired if they fail to tell their employer why they can no longer do their job.
An example of this scenario would be a worker who is absent frequently and/or does poorly at their usual tasks, but does not tell their employer why this is happening to them. If the employer fires this employee without knowing they have major depression, there is likely no legal recourse for the employee.
Concerns About Job Security? Some Tips
If you have major depression and are worried about how to keep working and job security, the following tips may be helpful….
Ask for Reasonable Accommodations
Under ADA regulations, employees are allowed to ask for “reasonable accommodations” that may help them remain on the job. People with MDD often have insomnia, which makes it difficult to clock in at seven or eight in the morning. A reasonable accommodation would be to ask an employer to change their shift from first to second or perhaps allow the employee an extra hour or two in the morning to get to work. Another reasonable accommodation would be to ask for flexible work hours that make room for therapy appointments. There are strategic ways to discuss how depression is affecting your work performance with your employer.
What Should You Do If You Think Your Rights Have Been Violated?
The American Disabilities Act has regulations that employees with depression or other mental illnesses should be aware of:
- The definition of reasonable accommodations only goes so far. Requiring excessive accommodations that an employer says cause “undue hardship” to the work environment is not protected under the ADA.
- Employers who can prove that an employee’s mental illness has posed or is posing a direct threat to the safety of others can legally fire that employee.
- Employees working for companies that have fewer than 15 people on their payroll are not covered by ADA regulations.
- Employers can ask for documentation of an employee’s mental illness diagnosis. That documentation must be signed by a licensed medical doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Taking Time Off from Work Due to Depression
Employees diagnosed with major depression are permitted to take time off work to get treatment and recover from depression. In addition to being protected by the ADA, employees are also protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Under the FMLA, eligible employees working for employers covered by the FMLA are allowed to take job-protected, unpaid leave for medical and family reasons. Eligible employees with depression can take 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period without retribution from their employer.
The FMLA considers covered employers to be:
- Private-sector employers with at least 50 employees who worked 20+ workweeks in the preceding or current year
- Federal, state, and local government agencies, regardless of employee number
- Private or public elementary and secondary schools, regardless of employee number
The FMLA considers eligible employees:
- To have worked for at least 12 months for their employer
- To have worked at least 1250 hours for their employer over a 12-month period
- To be working at a location where an employer has 50+ employees with 75 miles
What Should You Do If You Think Your Rights Under the ADA or FMLA Have Been Violated?
If you were fired after informing your employer that you have depression, provided a documented diagnosis to your employer, and requested time off, you may have a disability discrimination case.
Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by calling800-669-400 or emailing the EEOC at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can help you determine what you should do next and whether you should file a discrimination charge against your employer. Be aware that it is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for contacting the EEOC.
Concerns about job security are only natural if you’re dealing with a potentially serious condition. That shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing the quality medical care that they need to start feeling better. For more information about our treatment programs for depression, contact FHE Health today.