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Disability Law and Mental Health

What is new about the Americans with Disabilities Act?

In 2008 Congress, revised the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to expand the definition of disability and make it easier for people with disabilities to obtain protection against disability-based discrimination.

ADA covers both physical and mental impairments

  • Includes depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia & personality disorders
  • Does not include substance use disorders (alcohol or illicit drugs)   

According to the ADA, a disability is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”

  • These activities include but are not limited to performing manual tasks, learning, reading, concentrating, communicating, and working.

Employer requirements under the ADA relevant to depression

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, or job training.

Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose significant difficulties, expenses or result in lower quality or production standards.

Employers may not ask applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability.  However, applicants may be asked about their ability to perform specific job functions.

Employers can request medical examinations in order to follow-up on a request for reasonable accommodation when the need for accommodation is not obvious.

Even if a disability is not currently active, an employee who needs an accommodation to continue controlling symptoms may be covered. An employee or applicant may refuse employer requests for psychiatric medical records, including therapist notes.

A person can choose to disclose their disability at any time (pre-hire or post-hire).

There is no requirement to disclose unless the person wants to request an accommodation or other protection under the law.