Bipolar Disorder and the Americans With Disabilities Act

Part 2: Reasonable Accommodations and Claims Under the ADA

Reasonable Accommodations Wordle

What Is a "Reasonable Accommodation"?
This is a thorny question and generalization is difficult. Reasonable accommodations for bipolar disorder may include altered or shortened working hours, being moved to a quieter area, time off (paid or unpaid) without being fired for extended absence, change to a less-stressful job, modifications to job responsibilities, and so on.

For example, a person going through benzodiazepine withdrawal may suffer severe symptoms over a period of weeks or months.

During this period, shortened work hours may be a big help. Your paycheck may be smaller, but at least it won't stop. (Guidelines for enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically address the effects of medications as a possible cause of disability.)

Asking for Accommodation
You must ask for an accommodation. If you do not, your employer is not obligated to offer one. You may also put your employer on notice that you may need an accommodation in the future. Having a record of prior impairment due to a disability qualifies a person under the ADA.

You don't have to be formal about it and say, "I'm requesting a reasonable accommodation because I have bipolar disorder," however. The EEOC gives the example of a person who says, "I'm having trouble getting to work on time because of the antidepressants I take." This statement is considered a request for reasonable accommodation, and the employer must begin to consider the request.

Thus, you might say, "I'm having difficulty concentrating these days because of my depression." Your employer has to start taking action that same day. You may have to provide evidence that you do, in fact, suffer from depression. You may wind up disclosing that you have bipolar disorder, but you may not be obligated to do so if depression is the current disability.

Each case, again, is going to be different.

A family member, healthcare provider or other representative can also make a request for accommodation.

Your employer cannot request all your medical history or psychiatric records. They may ask you to sign a limited release allowing them to submit questions to a healthcare provider. Where a disability is not evident, they are entitled to seek confirmation, but only within the scope of the current request for accommodation.

Filing a Claim
If you believe you have been discriminated against due to your bipolar disorder, your medications, a family member's bipolar disorder or any other disability, you may file a claim with the EEOC. This claim must be filed within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation or 300 days if the charge is also covered by a state or local antidiscrimination law. The best way to do this is to fill out the EEOC's intake questionnaire, which you can do online or request from the nearest EEOC office. For more information, see Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination.

Additional Information
It is impossible to cover the entire scope of the ADA as it applies to people with bipolar disorder in a single article. Every case is unique. You may find these documents from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission helpful:

Go to Part 1: Coverage Under the ADA

Sources:

Instructions for Field Offices: Analyzing ADA Charges After Supreme Court Decisions Addressing "Disability" and "Qualified". 13 Dec 1999. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2 May 2008.

EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities. 01 Feb 2000. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2 May 2008.

The ADA - Americans With Disabilities Act. 10 Jan 2007. NAMI. 2 May 2008.

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