In general, people today are more willing to talk about mental health issues than they were in previous decades. But when they’re at work, they may be hesitant to discuss such a personal matter. Where is the line between being honest with my boss and protecting my privacy? Can an employer ask about my mental health? If someone does ask, do I have to reply?
Can an Employer Ask About My Mental Health?
The answer to the question, “Can an employer ask about my mental health?” is usually no, but sometimes yes.
(Don’t worry. We’re going to explain the reasoning behind this seemingly contradictory response.)
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), your workplace rights include freedom from being discriminated against because you have anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder. This means that an employer cannot fire you, refuse to give you a promotion, or force you to take leave due to a mental health condition.
These rights also include the right to keep your mental health status confidential – most of the time.
The EEOC notes that there are four times when an employer is legally allowed to inquire about your physical or mental health:
- If you have requested a reasonable accommodation that will allow you to perform the duties that are associated with your job.
- If the employer has offered you a job, but your employment has not yet begun. (Note: They can only ask you about your mental health if they also ask everyone else in your job category the same questions.)
- If the employer is attempting to track disability status across its candidate or employment pool, or engaging in other activities that are designed to promote a more inclusive workplace.
- If there is objective evidence that you may be unable to do your job, or that you may pose a safety risk, as a result of a mental health condition.
However, just because an employer can ask about your mental health, this does not mean that you are always required to answer the question. For example, in the third situation listed above (when an employer is making inquiries related to affirmative action efforts), you can choose whether or not to respond.
If you decide to answer questions about your mental health, federal law places certain restrictions on your employer:
- They cannot discriminate against you on the basis of the information that you provide.
- They cannot share your information with anyone else (including your co-workers).
Can an Interviewer Ask About My Mental Health?
Now that we’ve established that your current employer can’t ask about your mental health (most of the time), let’s move to a related, equally important topic: Can a future employer ask about my mental health? In other words, can you be questioned about mental health-related matters when you are interviewing for a position?
The following two statements were taken directly from a page on the EEOC website titled Disability Discrimination and Employment Decisions:
- An employer may not ask a job applicant to answer disability-related questions, such as if they have a disability, or require them to take a medical exam, before extending a job offer.
- An employer may ask job applicants whether they can perform the job and how they would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
As you may recall from the previous section, a new employer can ask you about physical and/or mental health challenges after you are offered the job, but before you start. This is reflected at the end of the first statement above (“before extending a job offer.”)
The reason they are allowed to make this inquiry is that employers have the right to ensure that the people they hire are able to perform the tasks that are associated with the job, either with or without reasonable accommodations. Also, employers are required to maintain a safe workplace, so they need to be sure that an employee’s physical or mental health concerns would not put themselves or their co-workers in danger.
- An interviewer can ask you if you are capable of doing a job.
- They can ask you how you would do the job.
- During the interview, they cannot ask you if you have a physical disability or mental health concern.
- After offering you the job, an employer can ask about any physical or mental health issues that would prevent you from doing the job correctly and safely.
What Happens if I Need Mental Health Treatment?
One of the times when it may be appropriate to discuss your mental health with your employer is when you need to take time off to get mental health treatment. Ideally, your employer will not make it difficult for you to get the help you need. But if they do, you may be protected by both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The ADA prevents employers from firing or otherwise punishing employees because of their mental health status. The FMLA, which covers mental health treatment as well as medical care, allows covered employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
Find Mental Health Treatment in Nashville, TN
Arbor Wellness offers residential and outpatient care for adults who have been struggling with anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a wide range of additional mental health concerns. Our treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, is a safe and supportive place where you can receive customized treatment from skilled professionals. Visit our admissions page or contact us directly to learn more.