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Accommodating mental disabilities: 3 key questions answered

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Are you prepared for questions like these:

  • A top-performing employee is diagnosed with depression and now says her medication makes it impossible for her to get to work on time. Must you change her work schedule?
  • An applicant voluntarily informs you that he is intellectually disabled, but says he can perform his job with a job coach. Is that a “reasonable” accommodation?

The ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate applicants and employees who have mental or physical disabilities if they are qualified to perform the job’s essential functions with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Still, it’s a tricky issue. These questions and answers come from recent court cases and EEOC guidance:

What if performance slips?

Q: How should we handle an employee whose performance is deteriorating and whom we suspect may have a mental disability?

A: You can inquire about an employee’s potential mental disability if the inquiry is job-related and consistent with business necessity. The EEOC says that means an employer can ask about possible mental disabilities when the employer has a reasonable belief that performance of essential job functions is impaired by a medical condition.

The EEOC says you must first have some objective evidence that the deteriorating performance is related to a mental condition (such as knowledge that the employee suffered from a mental impairment in the past) before making such an inquiry. Thus, a supervisor can inquire about an employee’s repeatedly forgetting tasks or being late for work. Supervisors cannot, however, ask whether a mental condition has caused those problems, unless they have some objective evidence.

Confidentiality concerns?

Q: What should we tell other employees about the accommodation?

A: Keep private all information on employees’ medical conditions, including any mental disability. Maintain such information separate from general personnel files as a confidential medical record. You may need to disclose the employee’s mental disability to a supervisor if it’s necessary to provide an accommodation.

Excuse for misconduct?

Q: Do we have to tolerate misconduct by employees with mental disabilities?

A: No. Most courts and the EEOC agree that employers can discipline employees with mental disabilities for conduct-rule violations.

You can generally hold mentally disabled employees to the same job-related standards that apply to all employees.

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