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Distracted or Disabled: When Does ADHD Count as a Protected 'Disability'?

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Do you have employees who are easily distracted, restless, disorganized and forgetful? Maybe that’s just who they are—or maybe they’ve been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It’s pretty common. About 8 million American adults suffer from it. It’s an “invisible” disability, but one court recently said employers shouldn’t be so fast to discount it. A disability is a disability … whether you can see it or not.

Case In Point: Dr. Robert Lewis was hired by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to work in the emergency room. After about four years, he told the emergency-room chief doctor that he thought he had ADHD. He asked to be accommodated by seeing only one patient at a time. Plus, he wanted to be able to fill out patients' medical charts in one batch after seeing all the patients for the day. 

The chief denied his request and formally put Lewis on probation because he was “impaired and di...(register to read more)

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

MarieB July 9, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Reasonable accommodations: Under Title I of the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. Accommodations are changes to the work environment or the way things are usually done that allow an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. There are many reasonable accommodations that may be useful to people with psychiatric disabilities. Examples are restructuring job tasks, providing self-paced workloads and flexible hours, furnishing written job instructions, and allowing time off for professional counseling. An accommodation is not considered reasonable if it creates an undue hardship for the employer.



jglennon May 7, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Sorry, DON’T expect someone to do something they are not wired to do.


jglennon May 7, 2009 at 6:42 pm

We make certain we research references thoroughly when we hire someone. If they have AD/HD or an undiagnosed attention problem, and we decide to hire them, we make certain the job given is appropriate, ie, something like programming — where they can work on a variety of things at one time and still be highly productive, etc.

A number of good attention training/cognitive programs exist for adults with attention problems. We’ve used Play Attention (www.playattention.com) with our staff with great success.

Bottom line: check references, do a good interview, and if they are qualified, find the right place for them. Do expect someone to do something they are not wired to do.


Dawn May 7, 2009 at 1:07 pm

John, The Job Accommodation Network provides a wealth of information on reasonable accommodations and does have guidelines relative to Attention Deficit Disorder (http://www.jan.wvu.edu/media/adhd.html). This is a great resource that I’ve used for years. Good luck!


John May 7, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Are there any guidelines as to what reasonable accommodations are for an employee with ADHD? Also if the job required the ability to focus on a number of tasks at once would a diagnosis of ADHD mean that the employee was protected from being fired because they could not effectively fulfill the job requirements? Thanks!


Jennifer May 7, 2009 at 12:02 pm

How should an employer respond when the need for specific accomodation changes? For example, if an employee needs a certain accomdation to return to the workplace and several months later the “accomodation” changes, what should the employer do?


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