• What are the difficulties in categorizing mental illness such as depression to constitute illnesses meriting sick leave compensation vis-à-vis more physically diagnosable illnesses such as the flu or cancer?
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    One of the central difficulties in dealing with mental illness in the workplace is that it lacks the physical manifestations that allow physically ill people to take sick leave, seek disability coverage, or ask for accommodations in the workplace with greater credibility. There is a tendency to disbelieve people or to minimize their suffering, making many a human resource person look askance at a request of any sort based upon a mental disability.  A depressed person, who may have been suffering for months, may very well not be believed, in spite of the fact that such a person is likely to have not come forward sooner for this very reason, along with the rational concern about the stigma of mental illness.  But it is not up to the human resources department to second-guess a professional diagnosis or treat one as any less worthy of respect than the physical illness.  The fact that there is no definitive blood test or MRI does not make mental illness any less real or any less worthy of being dealt with sensitively and compliance with all applicable law. 

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    Approximately one quarter of Americans have diagnosable mental illnesses each year, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. In addition, a large percentage of Americans report feeling workplace stress that could be alleviated by sick leave. However, the difficulty employees have being able to be compensated for mental health-related sick leave is that while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of most employees with mental illness, getting protection under the law can be difficult. For example, if the employer makes "reasonable accommodations" for the employee, such as allowing them occasionally to work from home rather than taking sick leave, then the employer is fulfilling his or her responsibilities under the ADA. In addition, the ADA only requires the employer to provide accommodations for employees who can otherwise carry out the "essential functions" their jobs. As depression is a chronic condition, the employers might argue that the employees, even if diagnosed with depression, can do their jobs and do not need accommodations such as sick leave. If the employees need a long sick leave, employers also can argue that the employees cannot carry out the "essential functions" of their jobs and therefore are not qualified to be covered under the ADA. Therefore, it is more difficult for employees with conditions such as depression to get paid sick leave than employees with physical disorders or sicknesses. 

     

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