HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Employers and Employee Mental Illness

Law.com has an interesting article with advice to employers on ways to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act when responding to employees who have a mental illness.   The author, Jonathan O. Hafen states, 

As the stigma of mental illness lessens, employers are handling more frequent requests for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because serious physical impairments are often easier to identify and accommodate, learning to handle the gray areas of mental disorders as they relate to the ADA can be a challenge for employers.

As defined by the ADA, a qualifying disability is "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual." 42 U.S.C. 12102(2)(B), (C). The ADA regulations define disabilities broadly, including a specific reference to "neurological systems, mental or psychological disorders." (29 C.F.R §1630.2 (h).)

Because the ADA only provides such general guidance, litigation continues to arise as parties try to refine the concepts presented in the Act, such as whether a mental disorder is a qualifying impairment, whether an employee with a qualifying mental illness can perform essential job functions, and how the limitation of a major life activity caused by a qualifying mental illness can be reasonably accommodated in the workplace. As the contours of these issues sharpen, the employer's pathway to compliance, without "overcomplying," is becoming more clear.

The article provides a quick overview of some of the issues employers face when an employee with a mental illness.

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