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.
Work can be stressful for anyone, and employers are wise to ease the burdens when possible in the interest of maintaining productivity and the general well-being of the workforce. But disabilities can complicate the issue, especially when the disability isn’t obvious.
Human resources professionals may be well aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as the ADA Amendments Act that broadened the law’s protections in many cases, require employers to provide qualified employees who have a disability an opportunity to be productive at work by engaging in the “interactive process” and providing “reasonable accommodations.”
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.
No employer trying to build diversity in its workforce is likely to get very far if its culture tolerates discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against employees based on race, gender, age, disability, or any other characteristic protected by law. Not only does such a culture work against recruitment and retention of diverse talent, it also invites legal trouble. That’s why employers are taking a close look at new guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressing retaliation claims.
The EEOC issued its new guidance on August 29, replacing previous guidance released in 1998. In addition to the guidance document, the EEOC also released a question-and-answer document and a fact sheet for small business. The material from the EEOC follows a surge of retaliation claims in recent years.
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.