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Individual assessment—Not diagnosis—Key to ADA disability

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in Firing,Human Resources

These days, just watching an hour or two of television or picking up a consumer magazine is enough to convince you that just about everyone suffers from some diagnosed or undiagnosed disability. We are urged to see our doctors if we can’t sleep, have to use the restroom too frequently or feel a little down and out.

In reality, it takes more than a trip to the family doctor, a diagnosis and a prescription to establish a disability and qualify for protection under the ADA.

Employees who say they are disabled must be able to show that they are substantially impaired in a major life function such as walking, breathing, talking or taking care of themselves. And taking medication may mean an employee is not disabled because it can so reduce the effects of even serious illnesses that a patient can lead a largely normal life.

Recent case: Robert Arredondo has a learning disability and bipolar disorder—a potentially serious psychiatric condition for which he takes medication. He worked as a mental health counselor caring for patients with mental retardation and other psychiatric problems.

He claimed that a female co-worker harassed him, and he filed a complaint. While the investigation was inconclusive, the woman quit, ending the alleged harassment.

The next day, the employer suspended Arredondo for taking an unruly patient for a car ride, which was against its policy. He eventually was fired for the offense. That’s when he filed a complaint that his firing was discrimination under the ADA.

But the court tossed out the case. Although the employer knew about his diagnoses, there was no evidence that the conditions interfered with any aspect of Arredondo’s life. Medication controlled his symptoms, and the court refused to consider him disabled. (Arredondo v. Gulf Bend Center, No. 07-20276, 5th Cir., 2007)

Final note: When an employee says he’s disabled, ask which major life functions are impacted before deciding if he’s covered.

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