STRESS AND THE WORKPLACE

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By IAED Staff

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits an employer from treating an applicant or employee unfavorably in all aspects of employment—including hiring, promotions, job assignments, training, termination, and any other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment—because the person has a disability, a history of having a disability, or because the employer regards the person as having a disability.

Source: “Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Guide for Veterans.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/ada_veterans.cfm (accessed March 25, 2016).

What is a “mental impairment” under the ADA?

The ADA rule defines “mental impairment” to include “[a]ny mental or psychological disorder, such as … emotional or mental illness.” Examples of “emotional or mental illness[es]” include major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (which include panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder), schizophrenia, and personality disorders. [However], even if a condition is an impairment, it is not automatically a “disability.” To rise to the level of a “disability,” an impairment must “substantially limit” one or more major life activities of the individual. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 1997; March 25. http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/psych.html (accessed March 25, 2016).

How long does a mental impairment have to last to be substantially limiting?

An impairment is substantially limiting if it lasts for more than several months and significantly restricts the performance of one or more major life activities during that time.

Source: “EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 1997; March 25. http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/psych.html (accessed March 25, 2016).

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Possible symptoms associated with PTSD are re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognition and mood, and arousal. Re-experiencing involves spontaneous memories of the traumatic event, recurrent dreams related to it, flashbacks, or other intense or prolonged psychological distress. Avoidance refers to avoiding the distressing memories, thoughts, feelings, or external reminders of the event. Negative cognition and mood represent countless feelings, from a persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others, to estrangement from others or markedly diminished interest in activities, to an inability to remember key aspects of the event. Arousal is marked by irritable, angry, aggressive, reckless, or self-destructive behavior; sleep disturbances; hyper-vigilance; or related problems (American Psychological Association, 2013).

Source: “Employees with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Job Accommodation Network. 2015; Oct. 8. https://askjan.org/media/ptsd.html (accessed March 25, 2016).

Are employees with PTSD required to disclose their disability to their employers?

No. Employees need only disclose their disability if/when they need an accommodation to perform the essential functions of the job. Applicants never have to disclose a disability on a job application or in the job interview, unless they need an accommodation to assist them in the application or interview process (EEOC, 1992).

Can an employer ask an employee with PTSD to submit to a medical examination?

Yes, if the need for the medical examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Typically, employers will ask an employee with PTSD to submit to a medical examination (also called a fitness-for-duty exam) after the employee had an incident on the job that would lead the employer to believe that this employee is unable to perform the job, or to determine if the employee can safely return to work, and if any accommodations will be needed on the job (EEOC, 1992).

Special note: Pre-job offer medical examinations or inquiries are illegal under the ADA. People with PTSD (or any disability) do not have to submit to a medical exam or answer any medical questions until after they are conditionally offered a job (EEOC, 1992).

Can an employer discipline an employee with PTSD who violates conduct or performance standards?

Yes, an employer can discipline an employee with PTSD who violates conduct standards or fails to meet performance standards, even if the behavior being exhibited is caused by the employee’s disability. However, an employer is obligated to consider reasonable accommodations to help the employee with PTSD meet the conduct or performance standards (EEOC, 1992).

Source: “FAQ about PTSD and the Americans with Disability Act.” Syracuse University. http://toolkit.vets.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/FAQ-PTSD-and-the-Americans-with-Disability-Act.pdf (accessed March 25, 2016).

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