Fairness at work and in the classroom: Investigating mental illness accommodation across two contexts

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Employees and students with a mental illness diagnosis are often reluctant to disclose their disability or ask for accommodations they are entitled to by law. For organizations and universities to become inclusive places for work and learning, all individuals must be able to receive the support they need without judgment or discrimination. One way in which organizations and universities can become more inclusive of employees and students with mental illness and create an environment where they are able to talk about their mental illness is by stripping away the barriers to the accommodations process. The present work addresses one of these barriers by applying fairness theory to investigate the extent to which contextual and individual difference factors impact third-party (e.g. classmate, coworker) perceptions of accommodations for mental illness. Two studies were conducted to examine this in both the classroom and workplace contexts. Using multi-level analysis, it is found that high harm accommodations are perceived as more unfair and individuals who think mental illness is controllable perceive accommodations for mental illness to be unfair regardless of the level of harm. Finally, counterfactual thinking is found to be an important explanatory mechanism of fairness perceptions. Other contextual and individual difference factors were tested but not found to have significant effects. This work moves forward the research literature on accommodations and moves forward the literature on diverse populations by addressing a prevalent, yet relatively understudied, population of individuals: those with psychological disability.