On December 12, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a resource document explaining the legal rights of workers with mental health conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each year, approximately 5% of charges filed with the EEOC allege discrimination or harassment based on mental health conditions. While not announcing new law, the guidance explains to individuals that they are protected from employment discrimination and harassment even if they have mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It also explains to employees and applicants that they may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation to help them perform their jobs notwithstanding their mental health related disability, laying out in conversational terms how employees can request accommodation for mental health conditions, what types of accommodations may be reasonable as long as they do not present an undue burden (e.g., schedule changes, quiet office space, changes in supervisory methods, telecommuting), the limitations on employer access to medical information, and employers’ obligations to ensure the confidentiality of such information.
The EEOC also issued parallel guidance aimed at health care providers who may be asked to complete a certification or provide additional information regarding an employee’s mental health condition. The guidance, entitled “The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for a Reasonable Accommodation at Work,” defines “disability” and “reasonable accommodation.” It also explains the interactive dialogue process and the provider’s role in that conversation. Most importantly, the guidance explains the type of documentation that might be most helpful to employers in the reasonable accommodation process, such as the provider’s professional qualifications; the nature and length of the provider’s relationship with the employee; the nature of the employee’s condition(s); the employee’s functional limitations in the absence of treatment; the need for reasonable accommodation; and suggested accommodations. Employers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with these documents, as they can be useful tools to provide employees who are seeking information about a reasonable accommodation for their mental health conditions.