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Have you wondered, “Can an employer fire you for taking prescribed medication?” The short answer is no.
Taking prescribed medication at work shouldn’t hold you back from keeping a job. There are laws—the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—that protect you should you be fired for mental health reasons.
However, legal nuances may complicate your situation since each case is different. To win your claim, you must understand your rights at work, how mental health and employment law interact, and how these issues occur in the workplace.
Mental Health Issues in the Workplace
According to an employee survey, roughly 1 in 3 respondents (31%) said their mental health declined over 2021. This finding can indicate that workplaces across the country have yet to adjust to modern standards of a healthy working environment.
Unfortunately, toxic workplaces are still prevalent. They’re notoriously draining to work in, often because of the workload. This can lead to stress and job burnout: intense emotional or physical exhaustion and lack of motivation.
While societies have come a long way to becoming more welcoming and inclusive, you may still see workplaces that continue to discriminate against people with disabilities. The stigma some employers and employees hold towards mental health conditions can make it easy to experience more mental health issues, including depression, lower self-esteem, and anxiety.
Knowing Your Rights at Work
While you can always consult with attorneys who are experts at employment law, it benefits you to at least have a foundational understanding of your rights as an employee.
1. How the ADA defines mental disability
Under the ADA, someone with a disability has a mental or physical impairment that can considerably limit one or more activities. A medical record of the impairment is enough to be considered a disability.
2. How the ADA and Title VII protect you
Can my employer fire me for having a mental illness? The ADA states workers with disabilities must be treated the same as other employees. So, employers cannot treat you differently based on your mental illness or because you take medication for it.
3. State law protection against disability discrimination
Depending on your state, the government may have laws that protect you against mental health disability discrimination.
State laws typically cover companies with five or more employees, which is ideal if you work at a start-up or a small to medium enterprise. Most state laws surrounding disabilities will answer questions like, “Can you be fired for mental health?” or “Can an employer not hire you because of a medication?”
California, for instance, has the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which protects workers from workplace discrimination, including disability discrimination.
4. Working with your attorney to establish a case
There’s no better way to ensure legal protection than to work with an attorney. They can answer your most pressing questions, like, “Can you get fired for taking prescription drugs?” and “Can you be denied a job if you are prescribed pain medication?” They will also help you understand federal and state laws’ legal jargon and nuances.
Not all cases are open and shut. For example, while the ADA may be against disability discrimination, lawyers may also cite Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., 2018, where the Florida federal court upheld the termination of a Chipotle employee who was fired for medication side effects.
An attorney knowledgeable in employment law can help you navigate these complicated legal situations to help you reach a satisfactory resolution.
5. Filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws against employment discrimination based on features including race, color, sexual orientation, and disability.
They are the governing body you’ll need to approach to settle your case if you feel you’ve been wrongfully fired due to mental illness. They can choose to represent the case in court. If they do, you could receive compensatory and punitive damages, including back pay and reinstatement.
However, if they don’t decide to represent the case in court, you’ll receive a Notice of the Right to Sue, allowing you to take it to court yourself. An attorney benefits you here because they can assist you with your application, which the EEOC will carefully review.
These reviews usually take 180 days for federal law claims and 300 days for state law. They look into your application to find instances where someone violated federal or state law. Therefore, to build a strong case, you’ll need to note signs and occurrences of potentially illegal behavior in your workplace.
5 Signs of Harassment and Discrimination Due to Mental Health Condition
Harassment and discrimination can appear in many forms in the workplace. If you feel you’ve been wrongfully fired for mental health reasons, it helps provide further evidence that your workplace exhibited illegal behavior. Try to recognize the signs of harassment below; they could strengthen your legal case.
1. Someone makes an offensive joke about your mental health
Federal and state laws can consider offensive jokes at the expense of your mental health as harassment. Therefore, take note of instances when you heard colleagues laugh about your mental health condition.
2. Someone threatens to harm you
The ADA prohibits employees from harassing workers with mental health conditions; it extends to your client. Threatening to harm you because of your disability is considered harassment, an illegal behavior you can’t tolerate at work.
3. Someone stereotypes you and calls you names
You may notice stereotyping if your employer treats you unfairly because of your mental health condition or medication; it could be considered prescription medication discrimination. Although an employer’s negative experience can sway their behavior towards people with certain disabilities, it can still be unlawful and supporting evidence for your case.
4. Someone asking inappropriate questions about your mental health disability
Have you wondered, “Can an employer ask what medications you are taking?” The ADA prohibits employers from asking an employee whether you have a mental health disability to help protect your privacy. However, the EEOC outlined guidelines state there may be exceptions if they can potentially affect your job performance.
5. Someone isn’t accommodating your mental health needs
The ADA requires employers to make the necessary accommodations for employees with disabilities, such as making it easier for them to apply for the job or fulfill their assigned duties.
Under certain circumstances, prescription drug policy for employers could also be counted as a disability-related inquiry if it requires employees to disclose their medical information. This was the case with Roe v. Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort, 1996.
If your employers weren’t making you feel welcome at work, that could be considered illegal.
Mental health issues can hold employees back from telling their employers about it. A 2020 study explored the question, “Do I need to tell my employer about medication?” and found the participants were reluctant to disclose their mental health conditions to their employers because of the stigma and discrimination they could experience.
Including these instances in your application to the EEOC could help strengthen your case. That said, it also helps to know the impact of these behaviors on your and your colleagues’ mental health.
Taking Medications for Mental Illness Doesn’t Have to End Your Career
If your employer fired you solely because you needed to take medications for your mental health condition, you might have grounds to take legal action. The ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act can protect you from prescribed medication discrimination.
However, there are bound to be legal gray areas where it’s unclear whether your employer is breaching federal or state laws. If you decide to take action, it’s best to work with an attorney who is experienced and well-versed in disability discrimination law. They can help you navigate the complexities of legal proceedings and build a strong case in your favor.
Consult with an employment lawyer at Shegerian & Associates today to learn how we can help ensure that this isn’t the end of your career.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Do I need to tell my employer about medication?
It depends. Legally, you have no obligation to disclose your medical information to your employer unless the medication could affect your job performance or endanger the safety and well-being of other employees.
2. Can an employer ask what medications you are taking?
No. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects your medical information and prohibits employers from asking about your mental health medications. However, the EEOC has guidelines outlining exceptions for when employers are allowed to ask you about your medications.
For instance, a police department may ask officers what medications they may take to ensure they operate firearms safely and reliably.
3. Can my employer fire me for having a mental illness?
No. Employers may not fire you solely for having a mental illness. The Office of the Disability Employment Policy writes that employers have the right to fire you for grounds unrelated to your mental illness.