Claims Involving Mental Disorders Are on the Rise

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 6, 2017 | Go to article overview

Claims Involving Mental Disorders Are on the Rise


Byline: Andy Lewis

State and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against disabled workers. Historically, many of the cases interpreting these laws focused on workers with physical impairments.

But in the past 10 years, the number of discrimination claims arising out of mental health conditions has grown significantly. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of claims filed by employees with anxiety disorders has increased 235 percent during that time, and claims relating to individuals with post-traumatic stress disorders have increased to an even greater degree.

Those numbers are consistent with my experience. I see more and more cases in which employees tie their workplace behavior or poor performance to one or more mental impairments, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Unlike physical impairments, however, mental health conditions can sometimes be met with skepticism by employers.

First, mental health conditions remain subject to various stereotypes that delegitimize the seriousness and pervasiveness of problems. In addition, employees appear to be more inclined than before to justify bad workplace behavior by attributing it to stress, depression or some other self-diagnosed mental condition.

Second, unlike physical impairments, mental disorders may not manifest themselves in obvious ways. For example, it can be easier for a manager to objectively verify that an employee with a broken arm cannot lift heavy boxes than to confirm that an employee with anxiety is unable to effectively manage workplace stress.

Third, the types of workplace modifications necessary to overcome physical barriers are usually easier to implement than modifications tailored to accommodate an employee's behavior. …

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