The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. Most notably, the ADA prohibits both private and public employers from discriminating against a person with a disability in any aspect of employment, including (but not limited to):

  • Applications
  • Interviews
  • Testing
  • Hiring
  • Job assignments
  • Evaluations
  • Firing and Promotions

The ADA also prohibits employers from discriminating against someone because that person is related to or associated with someone with a disability. 

Are Psychiatric Patients Protected under the ADA?

Psychiatric disabilities are covered by the ADA and are the second most frequent disability cited by individuals who file ADA employment discrimination charges.  

A psychiatric disability is a mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of the disabled individual. In order to be considered psychiatrically impaired, there must be a record of such disability or other people regard the individual as being psychiatrically impaired. Since work is considered a major life activity, the ADA extends to employment relations.

The ADA specifically excludes homosexuals and transvestites from psychiatric disability, so homosexuals and transvestites cannot claim protection under the ADA, although they can still try to bring claims under other civil rights laws.

What Kind of Employment Discrimination Do Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities Complain of?

Employees with psychiatric disabilities complain of many forms of employment discrimination, including but not limited to:

  • Illegal termination
  • Workplace harassment
  • Unfair disciplinary action
  • Failure on the part of the employer to make reasonable accommodations

What Kind of Psychiatric Disabilities Does the ADA Cover?

Psychiatric disabilities are classified into 1 of 5 possible categories in an employment discrimination investigation:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Manic depressive order
  • Schizophrenia
  • Drug addiction (although not current usage)
  • Other emotional/psychiatric impairments

Are There Any Defenses An Employer May Use Against An ADA Claim?

Mental health disability discrimination claims are subject to the same defenses that physical disability claims have. An employer may allege that the employee or applicant was not qualified for the position, with or without accommodations. An employer can also allege that the employee or applicant is not actually disabled as defined by the ADA.

Employers can also claim that accommodating the employee is unreasonable or that accommodations would be an undue hardship for the employer. 

For example, allowing an employee to work from home could be unreasonable if there are alternatives and if the employer has a good reason for wanting the employee to remain at the office, such as direct supervision. An accommodation could be an undue hardship if the accommodation would threaten the financial wellbeing of the employer or if the costs of the accommodation outweigh the benefits. Note that the interpretations of the ADA could differ by state.

Do I Need a Lawyer for my Employment Discrimination Case?

Pursing an employment discrimination claim against an employer is complicated. A lawyer will help you with the filing deadlines specific to your claim. Also, because the EEOC investigators will not get to your claim immediately, a lawyer can help you investigate and pursue any additional remedies. It is also a good idea to see a lawyer before signing a waiver or other severance package. If you are an employer being sued for employment discrimination, you should speak to an employment lawyer immediately.