Needing less stress at work isn’t enough to create an ADA disability

Employees who suffer from some psychological disorders may need a less stressful environment. But if being stressed out at work is the only impairment the underlying condition causes, chances are they won’t meet the definition of “disabled” under the ADA. Therefore they aren’t entitled to an ADA accommodation.

Recent case: Jorge Colon worked as a bilingual service representative for Illinois Bell Telephone Company, taking calls in both English and Spanish from several states.

While on vacation, his young son drowned. Colon took considerable time off under the FMLA and other leave policies before returning to work with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He managed OK for several months, but then asked to be moved to the call center group that handled just one state and used just one language. Colon hoped that would reduce his stress levels. The company denied his request and fired him shortly after when he refused to answer calls from other states.

He sued, alleging he had been denied a reasonable accommodation.

However, Colon couldn’t identify any major life function his PTSD affected other than working. And not being able to perform one’s job isn’t enough under the ADA to qualify as disabled. The court tossed out his case. (Colon v. Illinois Bell Telephone Company, No. 06-C-5214, ND IL, 2009)

Final note:
The phone company handled this appropriately. It gave Colon the leave he needed and was eligible for, and then considered whether he was disabled and entitled to an accommodation.