In another post, we talked about the question of whether or not to tell friends and family about the challenges of living with mood disorders and, in particular, whether or not to share a diagnosis (such as bipolar).
The discussions there about the many misunderstandings and misconceptions about moods and mood disorders that are commonplace in our society is relevant to this post, which is about employers and other people one has a business relationship with.
For employers, the issue is complicated by the various laws that attempt to protect people who have disabilities. The principal law is the Americans with Disability Act. That act requires “reasonable accommodation” on the part of employers when somebody has a “chronic medical condition”. The Supreme Court has been chipping away at the definition of “reasonable accommodation”. However, there are still some potential benefits to letting your HR department know that you have a chronic medical condition. For instance, your employer must attempt to give you time to go to medical appointments which might be helpful if, for instance, you are in therapy and need to go see your therapist every week.
There are potential advantages (as well as disadvantages) to letting your company know that the problems that you’re having at work might be related to a chronic medical condition. You might be given more of an opportunity to get help, but you might then have something of a “cloud” hanging over you in the future. The complexity of all of this may require a consultation with a lawyer who’s an expert in employment law in your area. This is in part true because individual courts interpret the law in somewhat different ways. If you’re thinking that there’s a possibility that your job might be in jeopardy, I strongly encourage you to consult an employment lawyer.
In terms of what to do, one important factor has to do with the size of your employer. If you work for a large company, then there is not much downside in letting your human resources or HR department know that you have a chronic medical condition (particularly if you say depression rather than bipolar). And there may be significant benefits.
On the other hand, if you work in a small company or a start-up, the human resources function may not be managed terribly well, and information that you give to whoever is managing that function in the company might be shared with others. In such cases, the best practical solution may require a consultation.
We are always collecting stories about this, so we hope that there are some of you who are reading this might post comments about your experiences with telling or not telling your employers.