Do you need to tell your California employer about your mental illness?

With the right information, California employees can decide if they are better off disclosing a mental health diagnosis to an employer or keeping it to themselves.

Employees with physical disabilities may not need to utter a word to their California employers to inform them of their disabilities, but the same is not always true of those with a mental illness. Workers with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or PTSD may struggle in deciding whether to disclose their condition to their employer. Doing so could provide them with accommodations that make their jobs easier, but there is also a chance that sharing such personal information could hamper their careers. What presents the best option under such circumstances?

An employee's right to privacy

Employees with mental health conditions should first know that they are not obligated to share their condition with their employer or co-workers. That said, employers do have the right to make inquiries into the nature of a worker's condition when she or he requests a reasonable accommodation, when there is proof that an employee's condition could become a safety risk or when a company engages in affirmative action practices. No matter if workers make their condition private or public, companies cannot discriminate against them based on their mental health.

Disclosing a condition

One reason that an employee may decide to disclose her or his mental health condition is to gain access to resources designed to help him or her become more proficient at a specific job. Reasonable accommodations, such as different work hours or modified duties, could help employees with mental illnesses perform better at work. Disclosing a condition could also serve as an opportunity for co-workers, managers and the like to gain accurate information regarding depression, bipolar disorder and similar conditions.

Not disclosing a condition

Alternatively, an employee may decide against disclosing a condition because she or he does not want to feed the workplace rumor mill. Some workers may feel that letting others know about their anxiety or a similar diagnosis may disqualify them from promotions or raises. Employers may buy into stereotypes and misinformation regarding mental illnesses, giving them the impression that employees with mental health conditions could become liabilities in the future.

Broaching the subject

Those who decide to share their mental health diagnosis with an employer may need help doing so. Approaching HR about the matter first could help quell fears and help employees know who they should and should not share their condition with. Considering timing and location is also a good idea. Finally, gaining a firm understanding of the reason for sharing the status of one's mental health may help matters.

Employees in California with mental illness deserve to know their rights, no matter if they decide to disclose their illness or not. Speaking with a legal professional can give such workers insight into how to protect their mental health and their livelihoods.