ADA and Psychiatric Disabilities









THE AMERICAN’S WITH DISABILITIES ACT

AND PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES

Patricia Faye Pierce

Professor B. Barnard

HRM 527

Spring 1998
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter

1 INTRODUCTION 1
Orientation to Topic 1
Purpose of Study 1
Overview 1

2 EEOC GUIDELINES ON PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES 4
Mental Impairments Under the ADA 4
Substantial Impairment 5
Disclosure of Mental Disability 7
Requesting Reasonable Accommodations 8
Selected Types of Reasonable Accommodation 10
Conduct 12
Direct Threat Exception 13

CONCLUSION 16

BIBLIOGRAPHY 17
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CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Alleged discrimination against employees with psychiatric problems is the second most common type of American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) claim filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These complaints represent approximately 13 percent of the ADA charges filed with the agency (back pain discrimination complaints rank number one) (1:1).
Orientation to Topic
Many human resource managers have experience developing accommodations for employees with physical disabilities, under the ADA, however, human resource professionals have had limited experience with the needs of those with mental or psychiatric disabilities. The return of employees to work after they have had psychiatric treatments can be one of the most difficult assignments faced by an HR manager, due to the stigma attached to mental illness (2:1).
Purpose of the Study
HR managers should familiarize themselves with the many legal obligations involved in accommodating an employee with a mental impairment. The purpose of this study is to provide basic information relating to the ADA and psychiatric disabilities.
Overview
Legal Obligation, Accommodation and Confidentiality
For employers, it is a difficult task to distinguish between troublesome employees exhibiting misconduct and an employee suffering from a true psychiatric disability protected by Title I of the ADA (2:1). Under the ADA, the legal obligation is on the employee to come forward with sufficient medical evidence of a disability. The employee or the employee’s physician should suggest various forms of accommodation if needed. In this case, the physician treating
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the individual with a psychiatric disability should be provided with a job description of the person’s duties and, if appropriate, a videotape of the work area.
In psychiatric situations, the physical functions of the job are less important than the nature of the job, personal interactions at work, and how stressful the job is (2:2).
Accommodations for mentally disabled employees are often less costly and burdensome than accommodations for physically disabled people. They can often be accomplished by restructuring job duties, allowing more flexibility in the performing of duties and work schedules, providing a job coach and by additional training (3:1).
The accommodation for the worker can be requested by the employee, family member, friend, medical professional or other representative, and the request need not mention the ADA or use the term “reasonable accommodation (4:2).”
It is important that HR managers be aware of the need for confidentiality and not violating on employee’s rights under the ADA.
The ADA specifies that disability related information is confidential and belongs in files separate from regular personnel files. Employers may disclose such information only to a limited group of persons in select circumstances, such as to supervisors when work restrictions are necessary (4:2).
Suggestions for HR Managers
There are several things HR managers can do to prepare themselves for an ADA psychiatric claim.
HR managers should not try to assess the illness. HR managers should gain employee input, backed by a psychiatrist’s comments and suggestions, on how the person should be placed effectively back on the job. HR managers should read the ADA sections on employment of people with disabilities and the EEOC
guidelines on psychiatric disabilities issued in March 1997. Managers and floor
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supervisors should have some general information on the ADA and on
psychiatric disabilities, as well as know whom to turn to for guidance within the
company (1:4).
The preceding information provided a brief summary of how psychiatric disabilities relate to the ADA. The following chapter will provide a summary of the EEOC guidelines issued March 1997 relating to psychiatric disabilities.

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CHAPTER 2
EEOC GUIDELINES ON PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES
On March 25, 1997, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance setting forth its position on the application of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to individuals with psychiatric disabilities. According to the EEOC, the workforce includes many individuals with psychiatric disabilities who face employment discrimination because their disabilities are stigmatized or misunderstood. The EEOC\'s guidance, a summary of which follows,