The following article answers some common questions about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) recently promulgated guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and mental health conditions.
Ever since the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) became law and substantially expanded the definition of “disability,” employers have been warned not to focus on whether an employee has a disability when evaluating reasonable accommodations. While that warning is valid, it is not absolute, and employers should not completely skip evaluating whether an employee has a disability. Even the 9th Circuit, where employees typically fare relatively well, has found that “cantankerous” and “ill-tempered” employees who are disciplined for treating coworkers and subordinates inappropriately do not have a disability that substantially limits the major life activity of interacting with others.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued a resource document explaining the rights of job applicants and employees with mental health conditions. The document explains that applicants and employees with mental health issues are protected from discrimination and harassment based on their conditions, may be entitled to reasonable accommodations, and have a right to privacy regarding their medical information.
Q We have an employee whose work performance has been slipping lately. We have reason to believe that she is suffering from depression because she was diagnosed as bipolar and had a bout of depression a few years ago that led to a similar decline in her work performance. We allowed her to work a modified schedule for a brief period while she was being treated by her therapist. She hasn’t requested another accommodation recently. Can we discipline her, up to and including termination, based on her performance, or do we need to take steps to address her depression under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
A Both the ADA and many state laws place the initial burden on the employee to inform her employer of a need for an accommodation. However, in the situation you describe, given the employee’s history of depression and her attendant performance issues, a court could find that your company was on notice of her need for an accommodation, even though she didn’t request one. That’s particularly true since she required an accommodation to address her performance issues the last time she had a bout with depression. When an employer has knowledge of an employee’s disability, she need not use the word “accommodation” to trigger the ADA obligation of engaging in the interactive process.
Mental impairments are some of the most challenging disabilities to accommodate. Read on to learn about how one company managed a difficult situation with an employee who suffers from a mental health disorder and how your company should respond in similar circumstances.
A While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t provide guidance regarding reasonable accommodations for an employee who is unable to use the stairs during an emergency, there are several pieces of information that can help you determine which accommodations are reasonable. Reasonable accommodations must be just that—reasonable. That means they take into account the specific building or workplace in which they will be implemented. Costs, building dimensions, and feasibility of implementation all must be taken into account when determining whether a particular accommodation is reasonable.
Navigating the ins and outs of your obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws can be a challenge for even the most seasoned HR professional. One situation that may be familiar to you is having an employee with food allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 15 million people in the United States suffer from food allergies, and that number is steadily increasing. Allergies are not only miserable for the sufferer, but they can also hurt an employer’s bottom line: It’s estimated that employees miss about four million workdays per year as a result of allergies.
Depending on their severity, food allergies may be covered by the ADA or similar state laws. To avoid employee complaints, lost productivity, excessive absences, and the risk of a lawsuit, it’s important to have a plan in place to address requests for accommodations based on food allergies.
You know you can’t discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. But what if you are convinced the person’s disability would create a significant risk of harm to him or others if he’s allowed to perform the intended job? The “direct threat” defense may help you avoid liability for a disability discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Direct threat defense defined
Most employers have several policies explaining their expectations for employee appearance and hygiene. The policies generally include topics such as appearance, dress, disruption of the workplace, health and safety, and interaction with other employees. Appearance and hygiene policies are generally published in an employer’s personnel handbook.
Many employers require employees to meet high grooming and hygiene standards as a condition of continued employment, and employers generally retain sole discretion to determine whether an employee’s hygiene and grooming meet their sometimes subjective standards. Employers that do not have hygiene and grooming policies are advised to implement standards as soon as possible because the appearance of employees—especially those who work in the service sector—can have a huge effect on a company’s overall image.
Disabilities of all types pose challenges for employers and employees alike. As employers struggle to find ways to help employees with disabilities do their jobs, they also must fulfill obligations created by laws designed to prevent discrimination and violate privacy. Like other disabilities, bipolar disorder presents its own unique challenges—concerns that will be explored in a Business and Legal Resources webinar set for July 28 titled “Employees with Bipolar Disorder: HR’s Roadmap for ADA Accommodations and Practical Issues.”
Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive disorder, causes people to experience varying highs and lows as well as changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. A bipolar employee may be wildly creative and productive sometimes and disruptive and nonproductive at other times, meaning employers see great strengths and frustrating weaknesses all wrapped up in the same employee.