Magazine article Management Review

AMA's Mental Diagnosis

Magazine article Management Review

AMA's Mental Diagnosis

Article excerpt

How the federal guidelines on mental disabilities in the workplace can be handled to create a win-win situation for all.

For employers trying to accommodate employees with mental disabilities, the situation has become even more confusing and subjective. This confusion was compounded with the March 1997 release of the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities.

Under the ADA, a mental disability includes "any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness and specific learning disabilities. Examples include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders and mental retardation." If a person is taking medicine for a mental disability and the medication is effective, the person is considered disabled the ADA. For example, assume a person is taking medicine for bipolar disorder and the medicine has either eliminated or masked the illness's symptoms. Under the ADA, that person is still disabled.

Chronic mental conditions that have active and inactive episodes, have a high likelihood of recurrence and substantially limit a major life activity when they are active, are covered as mental disabilities by the ADA. Examples are schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Several conditions are excluded from ADA coverage. These conditions include: transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, some gender identity disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania or pyromania, and psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.

According to the legislative history and the EEOC enforcement guidance, the law does not include traits or behaviors. Examples are irritability, poor judgment, rudeness, chronic lateness, irresponsibility and arrogance. If these traits or behaviors are part of the symptoms of an ADA-protected mental impairment, however, they are granted protection.

A mental disability is also not covered under ADA protections if it does not substantially limit a major life activity. Major life activities most often affect: ed by mental disabilities include, but are not limited to, working, thinking, communicating and perceiving.

By itself, a diagnosis of mental retardation, schizophrenia or manic-depression does not automatically demonstrate a substantial limitation of a major life activity. Also, stabilized mental illnesses that no longer impose a substantial limitation on a person's major life activities are not disabilities.

A person who is a direct threat to the safety of others is not covered. Also not covered is a person who cannot perform the essential functions of the job with or Without reasonable accommodation. If the accommodation would be unduly costly or disruptive to the organization, the person is not covered.

Last year, the author conducted the largest national study on mental disabilities in the workplace under ADA. The study surveyed 4,000 human resources directors or vice presidents across the country to determine the effect that mental disabilities have on today's workplace and the difficulties that human resources professionals are having in accommodating those with such disabilities.

The results found that the social stigma of mental disabilities still remains. For that reason, 84 percent of human resources professionals believe people attempt to camouflage their mental disabilities. According to the respondents, employees camouflage by taking personal time, vacation time and sick time to get themselves "together" without their employers knowing about the problem; others claim to have problems at home or that their problems are physical, not mental.

For employees who do seek accommodations for their mental impairment, human resources professionals cited that the most often stated conditions are anxiety, depression and stress. Many HR professionals are frustrated with the law because employees use the catchall phrase "depression" to take time off from work. …

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