The EEOC has issued a new publication titled “Depression, PTSD & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights” aimed at informing applicants and employees with mental health conditions of their employment rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
The publication presents a series of questions and answers regarding applicants’ and employees’ rights under the ADA to be free from discrimination and harassment and to request reasonable accommodation in connection with a qualifying mental disability. The publication also addresses issues such as confidentiality of medical information and circumstances in which an employer may request medical information from an applicant or employee.
A key focus of the publication is on the process for requesting and documenting the need for a reasonable accommodation relating to a mental health condition. The EEOC notes that an employer may ask an employee to put a request for an accommodation in writing, including a general description of the condition and how it affects the employee’s work, and/or ask the employee to submit documentation from a health care provider detailing the existence of a mental health condition and that the need for accommodation because of it. The EEOC further states that employees may not necessarily be obligated to provide details regarding a specific diagnosis if they do not want to, advising employees that “it may be enough to provide documentation that describes your condition more generally (by stating, for example, that you have an ‘anxiety disorder’).”
The EEOC also suggests that employees “can help [their] health care provider understand the law of reasonable accommodation” by providing their mental health care provider with a companion document titled The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for a Reasonable Accommodation at Work. This companion document is intended to provide mental health providers with a general overview of their role in the reasonable accommodation process, including how a qualifying disability is defined under the ADA and what medical information they may (and should) disclose in connection with documenting a request for an accommodation. The companion document also provides mental health care providers with examples of information to include in supporting documentation that may be “most likely to help [their] client obtain a reasonable accommodation,” including details regarding the nature of the employee’s condition and functional limitations, both with and in the absence of treatment, as well as suggestions for possible accommodations.
While this publication does not break new ground with regard to employers’ obligations under the ADA, it does underscore the EEOC’s focus on mental disabilities in the workplace and the unique challenges that may be involved in such situations. It also reinforces for employers the importance of engaging in the interactive process in cases involving employees with mental health conditions. And from a practical perspective, the EEOC’s statements in the companion document for mental health care providers regarding useful information to provide when documenting an employee’s request for an accommodation may also be used by employers to draft clearer and more targeted (but still legally compliant) requests for such medical documentation as part of the interactive process.