Does the ADA Cover Psychiatric Disabilities?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including schools, transportation, jobs, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of this law is to ensure that those with a disability have the same opportunities and rights as everyone. Just as rights and liberties are provided to individuals regardless of race, national origin, sex, age, and religious beliefs. The ADA enacts civil rights to individuals with disabilities.

Who is Covered Under the ADA?

A person with a disability is defined as an individual who:

  • Has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of their major life activities.
  • Has a record of such an impairment, or 
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

A psychiatric condition that substantially limits a person’s major life activity, including sleeping, working, or thinking, may be regarded as a disability under the ADA. And employers may have an obligation to reasonably accommodate workers with this disability. If they do not, it can be considered disability discrimination. 

However, not everyone with a psychiatric disability will qualify for ADA protection. If an individual is too severely disabled to perform the essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation, they may not be qualified for the job. If this is the case, the employer can fire the employee or refuse to hire the candidate. 

What is a Psychiatric Disability?

A psychiatric disability is defined by the ADA as a mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a mental impairment includes any mental or psychological disorder, such as an emotional or mental illness, including:

  • Panic disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders
  • Other phobias such as eating disorders, agoraphobia, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder
  • Dissociative disorders such as depersonalization disorder and dissociative identity disorder

What Do Reasonable Accommodations Mean For a Psychiatric Disability?

If an individual has a psychiatric condition that qualifies as a disability under the ADA, they may be able to receive reasonable accommodations if these accommodations are required to perform a function of their job.

These reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, and reassignment to a different vacant position
  • Changes to the workplace that can help the employee concentrate better, including modifying equipment, adding partitions, soundproofing a workspace, adjusting policies, or moving an employee to a less noisy area
  • Providing more frequent reminders of tasks and due dates
  • Increasing the number of short breaks an employee can take or allowing them to work from home
  • Allowing the employee to take doctor appointments when needed and allowing them to have a water bottle to take their medications when required
  • Allowing the employee to attend meetings remotely

In addition, if a worker has issues communicating or responding to directions because of their psychiatric disability, it may be reasonable under the ADA for a supervisor or manager to adjust their communication style or management techniques, such as sending more instructions through e-mail or strictly using voice messages. These changes may be considered reasonable, even if the method is not the supervisor’s preferred style of providing instructions to their workers. 

Accommodations are typically triggered when the supervisor or manager becomes aware of the employee’s disability and realizes that the individual needs an accommodation. Unfortunately, individuals with this disability are often too fearful of disclosing their impairment because of the social stigma that is often associated with psychiatric disabilities.

Notifying the Employer of the Psychiatric Disability 

An employee with a psychiatric disability will usually have to notify the employer of their impairment and ask for the accommodations they need. Additionally, managers can also ask their employees to identify the specific disability they have to figure out whether any accommodations are necessary. 

However, if an individual with a psychiatric disability does not request for an accommodation, their employer is generally under no obligation to provide one. But if the employee asks for an accommodation but does not specify what type, then management and the employee should work together to develop the right solution. 

Undue Hardship and Reasonable Accommodations 

Title I of the ADA requires that organizations and employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability who are applicants or employees of the company unless providing this accommodation would cause an undue hardship

Under the ADA, undue hardship means significant difficulty or expense for the organization. Generally, this hardship focuses on the resources and the circumstances of the particular employer in relation to the cost or difficulty of providing the specific accommodation. As a result, this undue hardship not only refers to financial difficulty but also makes it clear that if the reasonable accommodation is unduly extensive, substantial, disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business, it can also be considered an undue hardship.

That is why an employer must assess each reasonable accommodation on a case-by-case basis to determine if it would cause the company an undue hardship.

Psychiatric Disability Discrimination in the News

Psychiatric disability discrimination is nothing new. For instance, take the recent case where a staffing company fired an employee with a psychiatric disability instead of providing them with reasonable accommodation. 

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the employee worked as a marketing coordinator and needed to take leave because of a psychiatric disability. However, the company denied the employee’s request and fired her when she was medically cleared to work after a hospitalization.

The EEOC is now seeking monetary relief, including compensatory damages, back pay, and punitive damages for the employee, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future disability discrimination by the company.

Get the Legal Help You Need Today

If you have a psychiatric disability and believe that you have been discriminated against at work for this condition, make sure to contact Perkins Asbill, A Professional Law Corporation, today for a discreet consultation or call our office at 916-446-2000.