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EEOC Issues Additional Guidance on Mental Health Conditions

by Anne-Marie L. Storey, Esq.

In response to an increase in the number of mental health claims, and at a time of year that can be particularly stressful, the EEOC has recently released a “resource document” intended to provide guidance to individuals with mental health conditions.  The document, entitled “Depression, PTSD, and Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace:  Your Legal Rights” is designed for employees and is available on the EEOC’s website.

The document is presented in a question/answer format. Among other things, it addresses the issue of reasonable accommodation for individuals with mental health conditions.  Examples of potential accommodations are provided, and include “altered break and work schedules (e.g., scheduling work around therapy appointments), quiet office space or devices that create a quiet work environment, changes in supervisory methods (e.g., written instructions from a supervisor who usually does not provide them), specific shift assignments, and permission to work from home.”   The document informs employees that

You can get a reasonable accommodation for any mental health condition that would, if left untreated, “substantially limit” your ability to concentrate, interact with others, communicate, eat, sleep, care for yourself, regulate your thoughts or emotions, or do any other “major life activity.” (You don’t need to actually stop treatment to get the accommodation.)

The guidance then takes it a step further to say that the condition “does not need to be permanent or severe to be ‘substantially limiting.’”  As explanation of this statement, it says “It may qualify by, for example, making activities more difficult, uncomfortable, or time-consuming to perform compared to the way that most people perform them. If your symptoms come and go, what matters is how limiting they would be when the symptoms are present.”  Use of this very broad language gives the impression that almost any condition could be substantially limiting.  Employers should keep in mind that while the term is intended to be broad and does not require an employee to show that the impairment prevents or significantly or severely restricts them from performing a major life activity, the person still has to be substantially limited in performing a major life activity when compared to most people in the general population.

Employers should be vigilant in recognizing potential requests for reasonable accommodation of a mental health condition and responding appropriately.

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