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Dealing with an unsupportive employer in recovery

When employers offer benefits that support mental health, employees are happier, more productive, and more loyal. Employers can attract and retain employees and, ultimately, improve overall operations. However, most workers are forced to deal with an unsupportive employer. In many workplaces, mental health is still highly stigmatized, deprioritized, or blatantly disregarded by employers.

If you are working and managing a mental health or substance use condition well, it is completely up to you whether or not you disclose your condition. However, you will likely need to disclose your condition if you need to request workplace accommodations. In the event that you choose to disclose this information to your supervisor or another colleague, be prepared for a wide range of reactions, including acceptance and support to confusion and fear to, unfortunately, rejection and outright discrimination.

What can you personally do to protect yourself when an employer is unsupportive?

Know your legal rights as an employee.

As an employee, you are entitled to certain rights as it relates to mental health conditions, including the right to privacy, reasonable accommodations, safe working conditions, and a work experience free from harassment or discrimination. The more information you know, the better you can defend yourself if an incident occurs.

Know how to request accommodations if needed.

Before you disclose your mental health condition to your employer, familiarize yourself with all related processes, including disclosure and privacy, appropriate contacts, how to request accommodations, and how to access specific mental health benefits or programs. Be specific about the type of support your need. For example, would your mood, concentration, and performance improve if provided with a 10-minute break every two hours for breathing exercises? Any discomfort your employer feels in talking about mental health isn’t your responsibility – but it may help to ease their uncertainty if you ask for what you need in a direct and professional manner.

Be a wellness champion, advocate, or ally.

Even if you are not the 1 in 5 workers who live with a mental health condition, all workers deserve and benefit from a mentally healthy and psychologically safe work environment. You can help contribute to a workplace culture that is open to talking about mental health by starting the conversation, raising awareness, hosting wellness events, organizing employee resources groups, or building the business case to leadership on why addressing worker mental health is crucial for good business.

Consider seeking other team placements or employment opportunities.

If you have exhausted all options in requesting support from your employer, it may be time to consider requesting a change in your team or department (primarily in case of an unsupportive supervisor) or seeking other employment opportunities altogether. Set your personal boundaries and stick to them – setting boundaries may help you determine when it may be time to move on. Fortunately, more employers are becoming more understanding of the importance of worker mental health, which means you may find better and more supportive opportunities elsewhere. Every person deserves a respectful and supportive workplace culture and environment to help the organization, workforce, and individual thrive.