Can you be fired for missing work due to depression?

In this article we will discuss the steps you can take if you have been fired for missing work due to depression. 

We will also talk about the status of mental health in the workplace and rights you have as an employee under various laws.

Can you be fired for missing work due to depression?

The answer to this question depends on context. You can be legally fired from your job in these following situations even if you have a mental illness:

  • You missed work due to depression without informing any of your employees and managers.
  • Your work performance is still not up to standard after the company’s compliance to requests for accommodations and leave

However, If you have missed work due to depression after letting your employers know that you are taking a leave of absence after which you are fired, this is an issue of discirmination. There are various laws and policies that protect you from this kind of discrimination. 

If you think that your employers, after gaining knowledge about your depression- due to a medical leave you might have taken or after a short talk with your manager who has noticed your lowering performance- have fired you, then there is a chance of filing a claim against this wrongful termination. 

You have to understand that your employer does not have to keep you at your job if you are underperforming. It is also possible that you can consider getting an accommodation related to your mental health disorder by talking to HR and your supervisor about it- these days most companies have policies that protect their employees well-being. 

Depression is a major crisis amongst the employed population. Depression could have been triggered by work stress or other personal issues and crisis a person might be struggling with however it can greatly impact a person’s life. 

In fact, the DSM-V recognises dysfunction in occupational responsibility as one of the ciritierais when it comes to the diagnosis of this disorder. 

This means that the symptoms of depression might affect your ability to work. This could include not being able to focus on work, concentrate, low motivation and performance, and it could also include not being able to get to work because you are unable to get out of bed due to depression. 

Depression and Employment law

All employers have the duty of taking care of their employees’ health- physical and mental well-being. Depression by WHO is considered as an epidemic and one of the leading causes of disability. 

Your employers, under various employment laws, have a duty to protect your from discrimination based on disability and this includes depression too. Your country’s employment laws can see depression as a disability, which protect you from wrongful termination of employment. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the US views depression as a debilitating disorder and employees with depression and other mental illnesses are protected by this act. 

Even if your depression is episodic, that is observable only during depressive episodes, but causes flare-ups of impairment, they qualify under the ADA as long as the disorder is considered a long-term problem.

The UK and the US also have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which offers important protections for workers experiencing health issues. This law allows you to take unpaid time away if you need to take care of a sick family member or if you’re experiencing physical or mental health symptoms that prevent you from working.

The FMLA protects you from issues such as discrimination due to your mentla health conditon in terms of:

  • Recruitment and selection.
  • Pay, terms and conditions.
  • Sickness absence.
  • Training and development.
  • Promotion.
  • Dismissal.

So if you are depressed and you have begun treatment, you can stake your claim and your rights based on the FMLA or the ADA and other policies that the company has regarding health and mental health.

What to do 

Here are some steps you can take if you have been fired from work for missing work days due to depression or mental health related problems.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider

If you have been fired from your place of work because of your mental health due to which you have missed work, the first thing you can do for yourself is to seek out help. 

Make an appointment with your health provider- a general physician or a mental health specialist to understand what is happening to you and to get your depression treated if it hasn’t already been diagnosed.

During the appointment make sure you mention your symptoms such as:

  • physical and emotional symptoms
  • how symptoms affect your health and work performance
  • how long you’ve had symptoms
  • whether they’ve worsened over time

Your therapist or healthcare provider may also ask how you manage stress on your own, a detailed picture helps your care provider better understand the toll depression has taken on your life.

Make sure you mention to the therapist or doctor that your career has been affected and you plan to try rectifying it so any documentation from them could be helpful to receive FMLA benefits. This documentation should state that you experience persistent symptoms that negatively affect your health and your ability to work.

Take care of yourself

If you do not plan on approaching your employer after being fired, consider taking the time to take care of yourself. Reach out to loved ones for support or get into a support group to help you cope with the distress of having depression and dealing with not having a job for the moment. 

You can also consider getting into therapy and being persistent with your treatment so that your recovery from depression will be smooth. Take time to take reconsiderations of your therapist seriously such as sticking to medications, changing lifestyle habits, and even consider taking a break from working if finances allow. 

Do things that you love, even if it is just sleeping and watching your favorite shows. Take time to engage in activities that give you meaning and hope. Make sure you eat well and sleep well. All of this can be implemented into your life, even if it seems impossible, with a little bit of help from your therapist and loved ones. 

Talk with your employer

The next thing you can do is to talk to HR or a direct supervisor about the issue. It might take some courage to be able to go back and stake your claim, 

Your company might even have a handbook that highlights what you can do or whom you can reach out to. 

Start by making an appointment with HR or your supervisor listing what you want to talk about and bring any documentation that answers your behaviour based on which they might have terminated your employment. 

Prepare yourself to answer any questions related to the stress you might have been dealing with and be honest about your efforts to manage stress and your difficulty coping. Express your desire and motivation to work on improving your mental health condition and the possibility of getting your job back. 

Be realistic in your expectations of how this conversation will go, if your supervisors understand the importance and impact mental health has on a person, they might consider striking a deal with you. 

If not, take the time to recover and deal with your depression before seeking jobs elsewhere. 

Your HR department can also offer to make recommendations for you if you have been a star employee prior to the onset of depression so talking to your manager about this might also be on the cards. 

Consider legal action

If you believe that you have been fired due to discrimination based on your mental health conditon, you have the right to file a lawsuit. 

Especially if the circumstances of your termination fall under the policies and laws related to employment and disability act, you have the right to submit a claim under the Equal Opportunities Act related to employment. 

However, you have to understand that whether you will win the case will depend on the policies of your company, the documents of proof that you have against the proof of your work life that your employer has. 

Another issue to consider is your behaviour within the workplace even if you have depression. For example, if you have lashed out at a co-worker or your employer due to stress and this behaviour violates company policy, then your employer can legally fire you for your behaviour and not based on discrimiation because you would have signed the company contract that covers conduct within the workplace.

Ths, if you are considering legal action, get yourself a legal team that can advocate for you and handle legalities in fine print before charging head on. 


In this article we have discussed the various laws that protect you from losing your job if you have a mental health related problem or diagnosis. We have also explored what you can do if you have been fired. 

Frequently asked questions related to “Fired for missing work due to depression”

How many days of work can you miss before you get fired?

Three to five full business days is a common time limit of the days you can miss work without prior notice before you get fired. It allows the employer’s enough time to investigate your absence and understand your stance.

Can you get fired for missing one day of work?

The short answer is usually “No”. The misconception that an unexplained absence may in itself be a basis for immediate termination is not true- however, unexplained absence without prior notice from a place of work for more than three days can result in termination. 

Can I get fired for missing a week of work?

Most places of work allow absences provided that there is a legitimate reason that is covered by employment laws and work place policies. You will not be fired if these reasons stands and you give them prior notice of the absence. 

However if you disappear for an entire week without telling anyone, it can lead to you losing your job. 

Can my boss refuse to give me a day off?

Yes, your employer can do this. That is unless you have an employment contract, union agreement or there is a company policy that states otherwise. Absent that, it is perfectly legal to deny an employee a day off. Such time is granted at the discretion of an employer.

What happens if you miss work once?

If you miss one day of work without prior notice and authorized leave from the employer, that employee may be legally fired unless that employee misses work because they have a protected (by law) illness, disability, or obligation that causes him or her to miss work.