The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently published information which clarifies protections afforded to people who suffer from mental health conditions as well as the coverage for those individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).This article briefly discusses the EEOC’s newly published guidelines.

Long-Recognized Mental Health Protections Reaffirmed

Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, have qualified as disabilities under the ADA for some time and the EEOC’s latest guidance does not deviate substantially from this precedent. Indeed, the ADA continues to require employers to address and accommodate “substantially limiting” mental health conditions in the same manner as physical disabilities. In particular, this means that, with limited exceptions, employers may not ask questions about an employee’s mental health once an employee has started employment unless:

  1. The employee has asked for a reasonable accommodation; or
  2. The employer has objective evidence that the employee cannot perform his/her job or poses a safety risk due to his/her condition.

Updated Examples of Qualifying Mental Health Conditions

The EEOC’s new guidance does provide valuable insight with specific examples of mental health conditions and potential accommodations. In a companion press release, the EEOC noted discrimination charges based on mental health conditions are on the rise, specifically mentioning “veterans who have returned home with service-connected disabilities.” Indeed, the title of the EEOC’s new guidance specifically references both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as mental health conditions for which workers have rights under the ADA. Moreover, the EEOC guidance states certain conditions, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) “easily” qualify as disabilities, indicating the EEOC is taking a broad prospective on what constitutes a disability.

Specific Examples of Accommodations for Mental Health Disabilities

The EEOC’s guidance encourages employees with mental health conditions to request accommodations in order to avail themselves of the protections of the ADA. While an employer must consider the nature of the employee’s condition as well as the workplace in which he/she works when fashioning a reasonable accommodation, the EEOC’s guidance provides specific examples of “possible” accommodations, which include:

  • altered break and work schedules
  • quiet office space or devices that create a quiet work environment
  • changes in supervisory methods
  • specific shift assignments, and
  • permission to work from home.

Again, the EEOC is encouraging employers to take a holistic approach to providing reasonable accommodations to their employees.

The attorneys at Hawks Quindel are here to assist you request reasonable accommodation and/or address any discrimination or retaliation in the workplace. If you or someone you know are being discriminated or retaliated against, of if you believe you need to request reasonable accommodations, please contact the employment attorneys at Hawks Quindel, S.C.

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Colin Good