What should I do if, because of my mental health or substance misuse condition, I require assistance or accommodations to do my job?
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act and how does it apply to mental health or substance misuse problems?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):
- provides equal opportunity for persons with disabilities
- applies to individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such impairment, or are regarded as having such an impairment
- may apply to individuals with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence or drug addiction who have a substantial limitation in one or more major life activities as a result of the addiction.
In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide equal opportunity for persons with disabilities and to dispel the myths, fears and stereotypes upon which discrimination is based.
The ADA applies to individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such impairment, or are regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include such functions as seeing, hearing, walking, sleeping, reading, thinking, concentrating, performing manual tasks, or interacting with others. Because mental illnesses often impair one or more of these functions, they may also be eligible for coverage under the ADA.
“Mental impairment,” as defined by the ADA includes, but is not limited to, mental or psychological illnesses such as major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, personality disorders, attention deficit disorders and substance-related disorders. Emotional problems caused by situations that may be stressful and for which people may seek treatment (for example, problems with a spouse or child, workplace stress) are not considered mental impairments that rise to the level of disability under the ADA.
Personality traits or behaviors are not, in themselves, considered to be mental impairments. For example, irritability, chronic lateness and poor judgment are not, in themselves, mental impairments, although they may be behaviors exhibited by some people with mental illness. In addition, stress, in itself, is not a mental impairment though it may be shown to be related to a mental illness.
The ADA may apply to individuals with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence or drug addiction who have a substantial limitation in one or more major life activities as a result of the addiction. An alcoholic who currently uses alcohol is not automatically denied protection under the ADA. However, the ADA permits discipline or discharge of an alcoholic whose current use of alcohol adversely affects job performance, attendance or conduct.
Individuals who have a history of abusing illegal substances may be qualified for consideration under the ADA if they have abstained from drug use for a considerable time, or are currently in a rehabilitation program such as an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment or Narcotics Anonymous and have a substantial limitation in one or more major life activities as a result of their addiction. Individuals who are currently engaged in the illegal use of drugs (i.e. use of illegal drugs or misuse of prescription drugs that are controlled substances) or who engage in the casual use of drugs, are excluded from the coverage under the ADA.
How do I know if I may be eligible for an accommodation under the ADA?
- In determining whether or not you are eligible for an accommodation under the ADA, the nature, severity, duration and impact of the mental impairment are all relevant factors. Complexity and uniqueness require that each situation be considered individually.
In determining whether or not you are eligible for an accommodation under the ADA, the nature, severity, duration and impact of the mental impairment are all relevant factors. Complexity and uniqueness require that each situation be considered individually.
You will be asked to supply documentation from a psychiatrist or Ph.D. level psychologist to your supervisor, HR representative or Work~Connections representative if you are off work. The accommodation must be reasonable, effective and related or relevant to your impairment. If your department is uncertain whether your situation is appropriate for an accommodation, or if you disagree with them, either you or they can consult with the University’s ADA coordinator in the Office of Institutional Equity.
What are “accommodations”? How can they help workers with mental health or substance abuse problems?
- These are modifications or adjustments in the workplace or job that make it possible for an otherwise qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.
- Requests for accommodations must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- The University ADA Coordinator can help determine if a proposed accommodation is reasonable.
In providing equal opportunity for qualified persons with disabilities, the ADA requires employers to consider initiating “reasonable accommodations” for qualified employees with disabilities. These are modifications or adjustments in the workplace or job that make it possible for an otherwise qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. Because what is “reasonable” varies according to the nature of the workplace, the job and the disability, requests for accommodations must be considered on a case-by-case basis. The University ADA Coordinator can help determine if a proposed accommodation is reasonable.
Reasonable accommodations are generally not expensive and may include:
- Alterations to the employee‘s work hours
- Changes to workplace procedures or practices
- Changes to supervisory methods or practices
- Physical changes to the workplace
- Equipment modification
- Time off work
Simple physical changes to the workplace may be effective for some individuals. For example, room dividers, partitions, or other soundproofing or visual barriers between workspaces may accommodate individuals who have problems with concentration. Moving an individual away from noisy machinery or reducing other workplace noise that can be adjusted (e.g., lowering the volume or pitch of telephones) are similar reasonable modifications. Permitting an individual to wear headphones to block out noisy distractions may also be effective.
In some instances it may be reasonable for a supervisor to adjust their supervisory methods as a reasonable accommodation. This might include the way assignments, instructions or training are provided. For example, assignments may be given in more structured or smaller segments. An employee who is experiencing problems with concentration may require more frequent guidance, feedback, or structure to perform their job. They might also be given an electronic organizer to help them remember tasks and deadlines and help with organization.
Employees whose medication makes it difficult to get up or function well early in the morning might be allowed to flex their hours so they come in at an established time later in the morning and stay later in the day. Others may be unable to work a full day, so may work reduced hours and use sick time to cover the missing hours. Still others may work full time but be allowed to have time off to see their treatment provider.
Not all of the examples given above may be considered reasonable in every work setting. It is important to know the essential job functions and to remember that the manner in which a task has traditionally been performed may need to be questioned and perhaps changed as part of the review.
In all circumstances, the purpose of the accommodation is to assist the employee to perform the essential functions of their job, not to create an alternative job or position. It is also not appropriate to lower standards pertaining to work quality or to change supervisors as an accommodation. Clearly, though not all requests for accommodations can or will be granted, it is important to enter into discussions if you believe your work is negatively affected by a metal health or substance misuse condition.