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Thursday, January 21, 2016

How to accommodate mental disorders under the ADA

In 2009, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) expanded the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

article by Darlene Clabault for The Business Journals | January 20, 2016
As a result, even more employees fell under the initial Act’s protective umbrella.

A few years later, the American Psychiatric Association rolled out its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM). The DSM is the principal diagnostic source used by physicians in defining and treating mental disorders.

Psychiatry recognizes a number of classifications of disorders, including developmental disorders, organic or brain disorders, thought disorders (such as schizophrenia), mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.
Just as the ADAAA resulted in ADA coverage for more individuals, the addition of more accepted mental disorders in the most recent DSM had much the same effect. 

Some of the new additions to the DSM include the following:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Caffeine withdrawal syndrome
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Hoarding disorder

If an employee requests an accommodation for such a condition and provides his or her employer with documentation supporting the need for an accommodation, the employer generally has an obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Accommodating the disorders

Under the ADA, covered employers are to provide reasonable accommodations to the known disability of an employee or applicant. So, how might employers accommodate such new disorders? Most likely, they will do so in much the same way they have been for other mental disorders.

When an employee requests an accommodation, employers should engage in an interactive process with a goal of identifying effective accommodations. The focus should be on the employee’s essential job functions and on removing any barriers to performing those functions.
Accommodations are typically very specific to the person and the particular situation. One employee may find that keeping a list of tasks that need completion is an effective accommodation for a particular condition, while another may find that starting the workday an hour later is effective.

Asking for documentation

A common question with mental disorders is whether employers may request supporting documentation. They may, but should do so only when the condition is not obvious. Generally speaking, a physical disability is typically more obvious than a mental disorder, so employers often may ask for documentation of the latter.
Remember: The onus is on employers to accommodate employees with mental disorders, so that barriers to employees’ essential job functions are removed.


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