EEOC Issues Guidance on Mental Health Conditions under the ADA

EEOC Issues Guidance on Mental Health Conditions under the ADA

by Candice K. Rediger, Esq.

As HR professionals are well-aware, handling an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation can become a time-consuming and stressful process. The mishandling of a request can lead to costly and time consuming legal consequences. (Here is one example concerning the termination of an employee who requested CFRA leave due to depression.) One of the most challenging scenarios can arise when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation for a mental health condition like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued a guidance on mental health condition accommodations. The EEOC’s press release that accompanied its guidance stated, “During fiscal year 2016, preliminary data shows that EEOC resolved almost 5,000 charges of discrimination based on mental health conditions, obtaining approximately $20 million for individuals with mental health conditions who were unlawfully denied employment and reasonable accommodations.” The numbers cited by the EEOC seem likely to grow as our society continues to place greater emphasis on personal “wellness” and stigmas associated with mental health conditions become less prevalent.

Does the EEOC’s new guidance provide useful information to employers?

The publication titled, “Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights,” provides an overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in a Q&A format from the employee’s point of view. However, the answers also address an employer’s obligations when attempting to provide a reasonable accommodation to an applicant or employee with a mental health condition.

The “Fact Sheet” published titled, “The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for a Reasonable Accommodation at Work” provides employers with suggestions for requesting meaningful information from an employee’s health care provider when confronted with a reasonable accommodation request. The fact sheet is written in a Q&A format with the employee’s medical care provider as the audience. Question number 9 is a must read for employers. The EEOC explains to the health care provider that an employer “may require documentation that establishes how your client’s condition limits job performance, and how an accommodation would help to overcome the limitation.” The EEOC suggests the health care provider may give the employer documentation that provides information in “plain language” concerning the following:

  1. The health care provider’s professional qualifications and the nature and length of the relationship with the employee;
  2. The nature of the employee’s condition;
  3. The employee’s functional limitations in the absence of treatment;
  4. The need for a reasonable accommodation, explaining how the employee’s symptoms (as they actually are, with treatment) make changes at work necessary, and limiting the explanation to specific problems that may be helped by a reasonable accommodation; and
  5. Suggested accommodations if the health care provider is aware of any.

In handling any request for a reasonable accommodation, employers should always be mindful of the employee’s privacy rights in his or her medical information, and that the employee is protected against discrimination and harassment at work because of his or her condition.