Employer obligated to reasonably accommodate mental health conditions

Q&A with Anna Lukeman

published in The Oklahoman | April 13, 2017

Not all disabilities covered by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act fall under the category of a physical impairment. In a Q&A with The Oklahoman, labor and employment attorney Anna Lukeman explains why some mental conditions are also covered by the ADA and what obligations employers have to reasonably accommodate employees with those impairments.

Lukeman explained that to be considered a disability under the ADA, the mental or psychological disorder or emotional or mental illness must last for more than several months and prevent performance or significantly restrict the condition, manner or duration under which an individual can perform a major life activity, such as caring for oneself, sleeping or interacting with others. Examples of conditions that might qualify include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, major depression, and anxiety and panic disorders.

As with employees with physical disabilities, employers have the obligation to engage in the interactive process as a way to reasonably accommodate known impairments. According to Lukeman, the accommodations can take various forms.

“Examples include altering work and break schedules to allow an employee to attend counseling or therapy, a quiet office space or headphones to drown out excessive noise, telecommuting, modifications to supervisory methods such as written instruction or more frequent meetings, or providing a job coach,” said Lukeman. “It is vital that employers engage in a meaningful interactive process with any employees seeking workplace accommodations, both for physical or mental disabilities.”