by Nicholas F. Casolaro
Originally published: January 10, 2017
Q: Are employees with mental health conditions protected from discrimination and harassment under the Americans with Disabilities Act in the same way as employees with physical disabilities?
A: Generally yes. The ADA defines "disability" broadly and the Federal agency that enforces the ADA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with the courts, have considered a wide range of mental health conditions to be disabilities under the statute.
Unsurprisingly, the EEOC also takes a liberal approach regarding what accommodations an employer must afford employees with a mental health condition that qualifies as a disability. In fact, the Agency recently issued a "resource document" on the rights of job applicants and employees with mental health conditions, which affirms the breadth of its interpretation of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. While the document is not binding law, it is a useful resource for employers and employees alike on what the Agency is likely to find permissible and the new guidance on reasonable accommodations is particularly notable.
First, the EEOC states any individual is entitled to a reasonable accommodation for "any mental health condition that would, if left untreated, 'substantially limit' your ability to concentrate, interact with others, communicate, eat sleep, care for yourself, regulate your thoughts or emotions, or do any other 'major life activity," and notes that the condition need not be permanent or severe to be "substantially limiting." The EEOC tellingly does not qualify that statement by reminding individuals that the condition must meet the definition of disability under the ADA.