The Americans With Disabilities Act and Anxiety
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 as a way to protect people with either physical or mental disabilities from being discriminated against either in the hiring process or while working. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee, who has asked for the accommodation.
Physical disabilities can be easier to determine than disabilities caused by mental illness. Limitations caused by diabetes, heart disease or a specific physical need such as needing a wheelchair are easy to determine and easy to document, certainly easier than disability caused by a mental disorder.
What is a Mental Disability?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is often used as recognized and authoritative information on mental illness. According to the DSM-IV, an individual with a mental disorder must exhibit at least one (if not more) of the following:
- The individual experiences subjective distress. For example, the person may experience a painful psychological symptom like anxiety or depression
- The individual is impaired in one or more important areas of life functioning, such as the capacity to work, raise a family, or care for personal health
- The individual may experience a significantly increased risk of disability, injury, or loss of freedom
- The behavioral syndrome is not an expected response to a normal stressful life event, such as a brief bout of depression following the death of a loved one.
Establishing the Need for Accommodations
For an individual to be covered under the ADA, he or she must establish that the mental disorder causes substantial impairment in some major life activity. For example, some people may experience mild anxiety symptoms, becoming nervous or anxious when speaking in front of other people, but this may not cause impairment in their daily functioning. Other people may have severe anxiety symptoms that result in their inability to perform at work without special accommodations.
Other than work, major life activities can include sleeping, concentrating, interacting with others, learning, daily care, speaking and performing manual tasks. A person must be able to show their inability to complete one or more life tasks interferes with their ability to perform a job without accommodations. Normally, the condition or disorder must be present for several months before being considered a disability. If a disorder is considered to be chronic, it may also qualify as a disability.
It is important for medical professionals to be clear, not only in their diagnosis, but in explaining the impairment caused by the diagnosis. For example, instead of simply stating a diagnosis of "anxiety" the medical professional may need to explain what major functions are impaired due to the anxiety. The individual may experience intense symptoms of anxiety based on noise from other employees or from speaking in front of a group of co-workers. This information can assist employers in working with the employee to determine the level of assistance or modifications the employee may need to perform their work satisfactorily.
Employers, with more than 15 employees, are required to provide "reasonable accommodations" in the workplace for disabled employees. An employer, however, does not need to grant a request for special accommodations or modifications if it can be shown that doing so will cause "undue hardship" on the employer. Undue hardship is when, based on an employer's size, financial resources and structure, it is unreasonable or if the accommodation would lower quality or production standards.
Accommodations should be specific to the needs of the individual, however, some examples of accommodations in the workplace might be:
• Flexible scheduling or allowing an employee to change hours to accommodate doctor's appointments or therapy
• Partitions to minimize sound
• Providing extra assistance or allowing additional time to learn new tasks
• Providing a "job coach"
• Allowing tape recording of meetings
Accommodations often involve change in the employer's procedures or policies. An employer, however, does not need to supply aids such as eyeglasses or hearing aids.
"Facts About the Americans With Disabilities Act", Modified 2008, Sept 9, Author Unknown, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
"Mental Illness in the Workplace: Legal and Psychiatric Implications of Mentally Disabled Employees", 2001, Nov 29, Mark I. Levy, M.D., Jonathan Mook, Esq., Saul Rosenberg, PhD., San Francisco Attorney Magazine
"Anxiety in the Workplace", Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Anxiety Disorders Association of America