Depression at work

Depression at work: What are your rights?

Christina Omlor

If you’re suffering from major depression or another mental health condition, you may find it difficult to fully function at work. You may also be wondering, what your rights are and how best to manage the situation. There is good news: The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) covers many ‘invisible’ disorders. This means, if you are suffering from a mental health condition, you are legally protected and can negotiate for “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace. Join us as we go through what you’re covered for, by law, when it comes to depression and other mental health conditions. How to protect yourself and how to talk to your employer to get the best possible solution for you. 

Depression at work: Are you covered by the ADA?

About 44 million adults (over the age of 18), or 18.5% of adults the U.S. report had a mental health condition during the past year, which makes them actually one of the most common types of condition covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act.[1] Why is a mental health condition a disability you may wonder. The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and/or bodily functions. Considering, that severe depression or any other mental health issue can keep you from fully functioning at work and your private life, it does limit your life activity. Therefore it is considered an “invisible” disability. However, disability is a strong, and widely stigmatized term, we will choose to go with “condition” from here. Because that is also what it is. A condition, that keeps you from living your full potential. 

Health conditions are covered by the ADA:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorders 
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia 

These conditions are NOT covered:

  • Adjustment disorders 
  • Relationship problems
  • Illegal drug use 

What are your rights under the ADA?

Jobseekers and employees with depression have two main rights under the ADA. 

  • You have a right to privacy. Except when asking for accommodations to be made for you (more on that later), you can choose whether to tell your employer about your mental health condition or not. According to the ADA, employers can’t require you to disclose a condition (with a few exceptions described below).
  • You have a right to a reasonable job accommodation unless this causes undue hardship for your employer.

What are your rights before I start work?

Before you send in any applications, check if your future employer is condition friendly. You can use kununu to find out more. However, the most important thing you need to know is that you don’t have to disclose any information about your depression at the job interview or in your application. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to let any potential employers know beforehand or not. Yet, if you choose to be open, the ADA supports and protects you from discrimination due to your condition or your history of conditions. This also prohibits employers from failing to hire or offering training opportunities to you, because they believe you might suffer from depression. 
To work out whether to disclose your depression or not, you should ask yourself whether you think you will need any accommodations to be made or not. If the answer is yes, then you will need to disclose information later on, so it might make sense to tell your employer early.

Some employers will ask you to take a medical exam before starting your job. You are free to ask if this exam is mandatory. Remember, you don’t have to. But if you take the exam and it reveals that you have major depression or another similar psychiatric condition, don’t worry. Your employer is only to withdraw your application, if they have evidence that shows, why your depression poses a safety issue or leaves you unable to do the essential functions of the job. 

What are ‘reasonable accommodations’?

Accommodations are any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a condition to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Under the ADA, employers have to provide reasonable accommodations to all applicants and employers who have psychiatric disabilities, (including depression, and other disabilities) unless the accommodations cause them undue hardship i.e. they’re too expensive or too difficult to implement. To find out more about the kinds of accommodations you’re entitled to, read the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the ADA and Psychiatric DisabilitiesYour employer will ultimately decide which ones they’re happy to implement, but you should ask for things that you think will help you to work most effectively. Examples of accommodations for employees with depression usually include things like: a flexible work schedule or job sharing; time off for therapy or support group meetings; a quiet or out-of-the way workspace; extended leave after hospitalization and home office. This being said, everyone is different, so make sure to ask for the things that you need. 

They help us find a schedule that works for us and the client.” – Anonymous Employer Review at Disability Services of the Southwest Inc.

How to negotiate for ‘reasonable accommodations’

  • Start by asking yourself some questions. Are you able to do the main (essential) tasks of your job effectively with your condition? Are you able to keep up with your treatment and medication plans when working? Do you have what you need to perform to the best of your ability in this job with your depression? If the answer is “yes” to these questions, you may want to consider not telling anyone in your workplace. But if you said “no” to any of these questions, you might want to think about asking for an accommodation. Ideally, ask for an accommodation before your mental health conditions impacts your job performance.
  • Do your homework. Before asking for an accommodation, think about the kinds of things you need. Ask yourself, what specific things you struggle with on the job because of your depression? Which task(s)? How do you struggle? What’s the one thing you would most need to be able to perform better?
  • When you request an accommodation, be specific, concrete and clear. Focus on how your condition impacts your job tasks, not on the details of your diagnosis or your symptoms.

How to request leave of absence 

Sometimes you might need to take a few weeks off in order to cope with a psychiatric crisis or go to rehab. This is permitted as a ‘reasonable accommodation’ but is often thought of as a last resort. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the event of an illness or to help care for a family member who is sick. The FMLA permits you to take a leave of absence while preserving your job placement and benefits. To qualify for FMLA, you must work a minimum of 12 months for the same employer. The FMLA only applies to employers with more than 50 employees. Here’s everything you need to know about taking paid leave.

“I was not eligible for FMLA but my store manager held my position for over 3 months” – Anonymous Employer Review at First Watch of Inc.

Whatever you do, remember over 300 million people around the world are suffering from depression, and around 11 million of them are Americans.[2] So you are far from alone. There are laws to protect you from discrimination and to help you to perform your best, make use of these in the best way you can. And, if you know of others dealing with depression make sure you support them


Here at kununu, we have 3,898,626 authentic company reviews on personal experience, salary, company culture, and application processes for 929,442 companies. If you’ve been working with major depression, please write a review to let us know how accommodating your employer has been and help others find supportive, condition friendly employers. 

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[1]: National Institute of Mental Health

[2]: National Institute of Mental Health