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How to Manage an Employee With Mental Disabilities Under the ADA

Author: Margaret (Molly) DiBianca, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than one in five adults has a diagnosable mental-health disorder, and one in 17 has a serious disorder such as schizophrenia. Even though many employees have a co-worker and/or supervisor with a mental disability, they may not be aware of the condition.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees with known mental or physical disabilities. Unlike many physical impairments, mental impairments are not identifiable immediately. Not only are mental impairments often difficult to spot, they also can be hard to handle from an HR perspective. As a result, many employers avoid addressing mental disabilities.

An employer need not shy away from mental disabilities, though, and should deal with them in essentially the same way as it would with a physical disability. All of the ADA obligations apply to mental disabilities, including the duty to engage the employee in an interactive discussion when an accommodation is requested. The following steps provide employers with guidance on handling mental disabilities in the workplace.