The Catholic University of America

ADA Guidelines

Reasonable Accommodation and Psychiatric Disabilities

The question of what constitutes a psychiatric disability under the ADA is a difficult one, and one which will probably not be resolved in the near future. EEOC Enforcement Guidance on what constitutes a psychiatric disablity is being reviewed in light of the ADAAA. Mental health impairments raise questions about whether or not the behavior associated with the impairment disqualifies an individual from an academic program or for an employment position.

Key Focus: There is presently no consensus on what is a qualifying psychiatric disability for purposes of the ADA. The regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(2), simply refers to "emotional or mental illness." The key focus is whether the emotional or mental illness qualifies as a disability under the law by substantially limiting one or more major life activities. A simpler way to state this is to ask, is this a serious illness? Supervisors with questions as to whether or not a certain employee has a psychiatric disability, and what accommodations would be appropriate, should contact the ADA Coordinator or the Office of General Counsel.

Confidentiality: An employer should not tell employees whether it is providing a reasonable accommodation for a particular individual. In response to coworker questions, the employer should respond that it is acting for legitimate business reasons. The employer may request documentation about the disability when the need for accommodation is not obvious.

Examples: Examples of reasonable accommodation include providing additional unpaid leave, leaves of absence, occasional leave (e.g., a few hours at a time), part-time scheduling, or flexible scheduling. Adjusting the level of supervision may also be required. For example, weekly meetings with a supervisor to set up structure and a long-term plan with weekly check points for the employee who needs this assistance. Reassignment to a different position may be necessary. An employer may still require all employees, even those with psychiatric disabilities, to meet workplace conduct standards. For example, an employer need not tolerate a violent employee, even if the violence results from the employee's disability.

Source: EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities, March 25, 1997 (Number 915.002). (currently under review as of 2/18/09)


North Carolina Safety Task Force Report (includes section on sharing information when there is a perceived danger to self or others)

Section 3.24 Mental Impairments in Disabilities and the Law, 3rd Ed. Laura Rothstein

Law Students and Lawyers with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Problems: Protecting the Public and the Individual by Laura Rothstein

links updated 5/29/08 rab
updated 2/18/09 mlo