By Lawrence P. Schaefer |
An article in the Minnesota Star Tribune today reported that the Minnesota Health Action Group, a consortium of Minnesota business leaders, called on fellow employers to upgrade their employee benefits packages and “workplace attitudes” to improve the treatment of depression and reduce the state’s rising suicide rate. We are in the midst of a growing mental health treatment crisis in this country, and it is encouraging that business leaders are taking responsibility to urge immediate action. Lawyers who advocate for individuals with disabilities have to feel the same sense of urgency, and commit to doing everything we can to combat this crisis and fully protect our clients’ rights.
Depression, and Other Mental Health Conditions, Are Disabilities Under the Law
The first step is to recognize that most mental health conditions are properly considered disabilities under the law, and can be as harmful and debilitating as more readily understood physical conditions. I have been privileged over the course of my over-30-year career to represent many clients who suffer from disabling depression and/or related anxiety conditions (including, for example, PTSD). While these conditions can often be controlled by the right medication and/or treatment, even in the best of circumstances when symptoms are triggered these conditions can be as paralyzing as any physical injury.
Employers Who Fail to Recognize These Disabilities Need to Be Held Accountable
Employers who minimize the need to accommodate these conditions, by refusing leave or other needed accommodations, have to be held accountable. Employers who accommodate these conditions begrudgingly, then take a later opportunity to either excessively and unfairly scrutinize or criticize the employee’s performance or otherwise threaten their continued employment, have to be held accountable. Even worse, when these employees, who desperately need compassion and understanding, face either obstacles or outright scorn or even mocking in the workplace, the offending employer has to be held accountable.
The Degree of Emotional Distress These Clients Suffer Is Fully Compensable
Any employer found to have engaged in discrimination is liable not just for economic harm caused by the discrimination, but for the emotional impact of the discrimination. Under the law a discriminator, like a tortfeasor, takes their victim as they find them. This means that if the individual who has suffered discrimination is susceptible to suffering extreme emotional distress – far beyond what an individual with “standard” coping skills might experience – this extreme reaction is fully compensable under the law. Advocates in this field need to fully understand this, and often need to retain expert witnesses (either treating mental health providers or forensic expert witnesses) to fully develop the gravity of the harm suffered.
Schaefer Halleen lawyers have deep experience and a nuanced understanding of mental health disabilities. We are available for a free consultation to assist you in determining whether you have been subject to discrimination or retaliation because of a mental health condition.