Citing a substantial increase in complaints of discrimination and failure to accommodate employees with mental disabilities, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released new guidance for employees with these disabilities, advising them of their rights to be free from such discrimination and to request and receive accommodations for their disabilities.
Entitled “Depression, PTSD & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights,” the guidance contains a number of questions and answers to help employees understand their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and how the interactive process should work to reach an understanding with the employer about what accommodations can be provided. It also advises what actions on the part of the employer are prohibited, such as firing employees for having a disability, failing to engage in a meaningful interactive process, and forcing employees to take a leave of absence, among others. Furthermore, it contains information regarding the right of employees to have medical information maintained confidentially when obtained through the interactive process.
The EEOC also offers information that may be helpful for employers. For example, the guidance provides a link to a fact sheet entitled “The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for a Reasonable Accommodation.” Included in this material is a list of how a provider makes available documentation of the disability that the employer may require and what that documentation should include, such as the nature of the employee’s condition, the employee’s functional limitations in absence of treatment, the need for reasonable accommodation, and suggested accommodations. This clarifies what information the employer is entitled to receive in the documentation process.
The increase in complaints being filed and litigated by the EEOC on behalf of these disabled employees explains why they are taking measures to increase the awareness of employees with mental disabilities of their legal rights in the workplace and their right to accommodation to enable the employee to do their job. Employers should be strongly advised to review this guidance in detail, not only to avoid the possibility of claims arising from the improper handling of requests for accommodation, but moreover, to ensure that these employees’ rights are protected and not compromised, as the law requires.
The full text of the EEOC’s guidance can be found here.