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  • MH3313

Accommodating Mental Illness

Overall, about 1 in 5 Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. Among these individuals, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that:


-18% have an anxiety disorder (including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder)

-9.5% have depression

-4% have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

-2.6% have bipolar disorder

-1% have schizophrenia.


About 18% of workers in the U.S. report having a mental health condition in any given month. This means that psychiatric disability is one of the most common types of disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA").


The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. When employees have a mental health condition that meets this criteria, they have workplace rights under the ADA. The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals who have a record (history) of a mental disorder or are regarded as having such. Moreover, employers cannot take actions such as failing to hire, demote, or denying opportunities, simply because they believe a qualified applicant or employee might have a mental disability. Applicants and employees with mental disorders under the ADA have a right to privacy, except when asking for an accommodation, and they have a right to a job accommodation unless this causes undue hardship for the employer. Accommodations are “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” Accommodations may include, but are not limited to, limiting hours for doctors appointments, work from home, or longer breaks.


For example, an individual suffers from panic disorder, which typically involves recurrent and often unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks may be very debilitating and typically mirror symptoms of a heart attack, causing one to feel dizzy and sometimes lose their vision. Due to fears of losing control while driving, this individual may request temporary work from home until her panic disorder is under control. Should work from home be feasible, and the employer put on notice, this individual has a right to her requested accommodations. Her employer may not discriminate against her due to her disability. This means her employer may not take action against her (absent a good-faith reason) that the employer would not take against a mentally sound individual, such as cutting hours or micromanaging tasks, simply because of the employee’s mental illness.


The decision to come forward with an accommodation request is particularly challenging for workers with mental disabilities because of the many misconceptions and stigmas around mental health conditions. Yet, it is important for these workers to request an accommodation and not suffer in silence.


Mental illness is a very real part of life and should not be combated alone. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against due to a mental illness, contact an RMN attorney today at lawyer@RMN-law.com or 412-626-5626.

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