The ADA requirements for accommodating depression and psychiatric disabilities

Q. If a worker complains that he or she is depressed and needs time off, do I have a duty under the ADA to give the worker leave?

A. Depression may be protected under the ADA if it meets the law’s definition of a “disability.” Depression can be a disability if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities may include restrictions on learning, thinking, concentrating, interacting with others, caring for oneself, speaking, performing manual tasks, sleeping or working.

An impairment that lasts for only a brief time or causes only mild limitations on a major life activity is not substantially limiting.

If the need for an accommodation is not obvious, the employer may ask for documentation of the employee’s disability and functional limitations. An employer may only make disability-related inquiries or require the psychiatric examination of a worker when the employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition or a worker will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition. The permissible inquiries or examinations, however, are limited.

With regard to the reasonable accommodation of psychiatric disabilities, EEOC guidance suggests reasonable accommodations such as changes to workplace policies, procedures or practices, changing the workplace’s physical environment or installing extra equipment (such as bright lights for those suffering from seasonal adjustment disorder).

Employers are not required to provide an accommodation that creates an undue hardship. An undue hardship is an act that requires significant difficulty or expense.