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Anxiety Disorders And Their Relationship To The ADA

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks

A Detroit casino will pay $140,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a pit manager. In its lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that the employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to the manager who suffers from a stress-anxiety disorder.

The manager collapsed on the job because of his ­anxiety disorder. When he requested an additional four weeks of extended leave before returning to work, the employer denied his request. The employer then terminated him after he exhausted his Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.

The EEOC alleged that the employer's conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Leave can be a reasonable accommodation.

In addition to paying $140,000 to the terminated employee, the employer agreed to train managers and the human resource department on ADA requirements. "Greektown Casino to Pay $140,000 To Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit," (Jan. 24, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects applicants and employees with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity from harassment or discrimination. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to an applicant or employee with a disability, unless doing so causes undue hardship.

Anxiety is an umbrella term for several related disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. Symptoms of anxiety disorders include feeling excessively worried; experiencing spontaneous panic attacks; fearing being judged in a social or performance situation; and fears of certain things such as elevators, heights, and driving. Physical symptoms of anxiety and panic include a rapid heart rate, nausea, and sweating.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S., making it the most common mental illness in the nation. That means around one-fifth of all employees may have an anxiety disorder.

Examples of possible accommodations for employees with anxiety disorders include not requiring them to make presentations or fly to attend conferences or allowing them break time during the day to de-stress. In the above case, the employer should have provided the employee with extended leave to recover from his anxiety-induced collapse. Engage in an interactive process with the employee and his or her health care providers to find the appropriate accommodation.

Here are some tips to consider when creating a disability accommodation policy:

  • Review your disability policy. Is it clear how accommodation requests are made (do not require them to be made in writing) and how they are evaluated within your organization?
  • Train managers and supervisors on ADA requirements and make sure they quickly refer all accommodation requests to human resources for evaluation. Also, train them to listen for informal requests for reasonable accommodation.
  • When organization rules (e.g., no eating at a desk) conflict with doctor ordered treatment plans, make certain that needs for the rule substantially outweigh the treatment needs of the employee.
  • Provide education and training regarding the disability to human resources and the supervisor of an employee with a disability so that they understand what tasks the employee can and cannot perform.
  • Employers do not have to remove essential functions, create new jobs, or lower production standards as an accommodation.
  • Consult with legal counsel before making any employment decisions that adversely affects an employee with a disability.
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