A Guide to ADA Mental Health Accommodations

Mental health issues in the workplace are both common and misunderstood. It’s commonly thought that those with mental health conditions don’t recover, but with modern treatments, recovery is not just possible; it’s likely. Other misconceptions about mental health conditions in the workplace are that those with these conditions can’t work or perform under stressful or intense conditions. This isn’t true; many people with mental health conditions can work perfectly well or with a few accommodations. And workplaces can support their employees’ mental health, physical health, productivity, and overall morale with wellness programs. Wellness programs help the building blocks of good mental health and have been used by many workplaces to reduce healthcare costs and boost wellness. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that was passed in 1990. It protects the civil rights of people with disabilities, including at work. This article explores the ADA and mental health in the workplace. 

What is Mental Illness According to the ADA?

The ADA recognizes that in our culture, the terms “mental illness” and “psychiatric disability” are often used interchangeably. However, technically speaking, “mental illness” is used medically to describe many health conditions that have to do with mental and emotional health. But, psychiatric disability is used by the ADA to describe impairments that would fall under the ADA legally. Examples of psychiatric diagnoses are anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Around 18% of workers in America have a mental health condition in a given month. One of the most common types of disabilities covered by the ADA is psychiatric disabilities. 

What is a Psychiatric Disability According to the ADA?

  • Psychiatric disability defined.

A psychiatric disability is defined by the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The ADA was expanded back in 2008 to cover workers with psychiatric disabilities. This expansion grants legal rights to workers with psychiatric disabilities. 

  • Psychiatric disability records.

Under the ADA, employers are prohibited from discriminating against people with a history of psychiatric disability or who are thought to have one. Additionally, employers cannot legally fail to hire, demote or deny training to a qualified applicant or employee because that person is suspected of having a psychiatric disability. 

  • Rights under the ADA.

One of the most important rights protected by the ADA is the right to privacy. Disclosing a mental health condition or a psychiatric disability is completely at the discretion of the individual. Employers are not allowed to demand disclosure from applicants or employees. The choice to not disclose a psychiatric disability is legally protected. 

Another right that workers have under the ADA is reasonable accommodations for their disability. Unless the accommodations cause “undue hardship,” employers are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations. 

However, with the request for accommodations, disclosure of the psychiatric disability is required. Employers may request medical documents to prove the disability, but they are not allowed to share any information with other people on the job. 

What are Job Accommodations?

Job accommodations are “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” Employers are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with psychiatric disabilities. While the employer ultimately decides the accommodations, employees must also speak up. Employers need to listen to their employees. Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations:

  1. Giving more frequent reminders of deadlines and tasks. 
  2. Finding a quieter work environment.
  3. Taking more breaks.
  4. Working from home.
  5. Adjusting schedule for doctor’s appointments.
  6. Taking breaks for medications.
  7. Going part-time while medication stabilizes.
  8. Using a water bottle during work. 
  9. As a last resort, a leave of absence is a work accommodation.

What Employees Should Know About the ADA and Mental Health

  1. Disclosure is your choice.
  2. Look for workplaces with a tolerant culture.
  3. Self-examine your abilities and condition to determine if you can stay silent or need to disclose and ask for accommodations.
  4. If you ask for accommodations, do your research and be prepared to be specific. 

What Employers Should Know About the ADA and Mental Health

  1. One in five of their employees likely has a psychiatric disability, making workplace policies and accommodations a way to leverage talent. 
  2. Keep safety at the forefront.
  3. Encourage managers to be inclusive when it comes to psychiatric disabilities. 
  4. Create sources of connection and support.
  5. Be proactive about harassment and bullying. 

Mental Health in the Workplace and BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS)

Here at BHS, we are experts at helping workplaces bring wellness to the forefront. With customized nutrition plans, employee education, and wellness challenges, we can help support your employees’ mental health, overall wellness, productivity, and morale. Please get in touch with us today for more information or to get started.

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