EEOC Issues Workplace Rights Resource Document for Individuals with Mental Health Conditions
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a resource document explaining workplace rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act for individuals with mental health conditions.
Through a series of questions and answers, the resource document explains that individuals are protected from employment discrimination and harassment based on their mental health conditions. It addresses the right of individuals to keep their condition private in most situations, and notes that employers may ask medical questions about the condition only in four situations:
- When the individual asks for a reasonable accommodation
- After a job offer is made and before employment begins, as long as everyone entering the same job category is asked the same questions
- When engaging in affirmative action for people with disabilities, in which case response is voluntary
- On the job, when there is objective evidence that the individual may be unable to perform his job or poses a safety risk
The document explains the individual’s right to a reasonable accommodation for a condition that substantially limits a major life activity, and provides examples of such activities, which are taken directly from the regulations: the ability to concentrate, interact with others, communicate, eat, sleep, care for oneself. It also, interestingly, adds a new one: regulating one’s thoughts or emotions. The document emphasizes that the limitation does not need to be permanent or severe, as long as it makes the activity more difficult, uncomfortable, or time-consuming to perform as compared with most other people. Moreover, for intermittent conditions, the limitation is measured when symptoms are actually present.
In addition, the document provides examples of possible accommodations, including altered break and work schedules, quiet office space or devices that create a quiet work environment, changes in supervisory methods (e.g. written instructions instead of verbal ones), specific shift assignments, and permission to work from home.
The document also describes the process of obtaining a reasonable accommodation, including the fact that the employer may require documentation from the employee’s doctor. Of particular note, the EEOC has created another document that can be provided to the employee’s health care provider to help them understand reasonable accommodation: The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for a Reasonable Accommodation at Work. The document further provides that if no accommodation will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of her job, the employee may be entitled to unpaid leave or reassignment.
Finally, the document explains that, if the employee believes her rights have been violated, she may contact the EEOC to file a charge of discrimination, and that she is protected from retaliation for contacting the EEOC or filing a charge.