OCD on the Job

Protect Your Rights

OCD at work
Morgue File

OCD can affect every aspect of life. It is particularly difficult when the symptoms show up on the job. People with OCD need to know about legal protections under the law, what and when to disclose about their condition, what accommodations may be requested and how to protect your rights. The following information is offered as guidance, not legal advice.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that was designed to protect those with disabilities from discrimination.

The ADA protects employees with physical or mental disabilities who are able to perform their job with reasonable accommodations. Private and religious employers with 15 or more employees and all public sector employers fall under this federal mandate.

The ADA does not specifically identify medical conditions that are covered under the law. The law defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” under the ADA Amendments Acts. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has included OCD in its regulations as a condition that substantially limits brain function. Therefore the EEOC suggests that OCD should qualify as a disability.

Your employer may ask for documentation from your mental health provider to substantiate your disability. Larger companies usually have policies and procedures outlining how the employer addresses requests for accommodations.

If so, it would be helpful to be aware of these before disclosing your OCD as a disability.

Reasonable Accommodations

It is important to understand that requests for accommodations need to be considered reasonable. According to JAN, this means “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.

Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to ensure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.”

The EEOC states that employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless doing so would cause ‘undue hardship’ to the employer. Undue hardship is explained as accommodations that would be cost prohibitive or too difficult given the size or structure of the business.

To Disclose or Not to Disclose – That is the Question

There are risks and benefits to disclosing your mental health condition on the job. If the symptoms interfere with your ability to do your work, you may have to disclose to protect your job. It is wise to do some homework before you disclose.

  1. Determine if your employer is covered under the ADA
  2. Secure documentation of your diagnosis from your medical or mental health provider.
  3. Be aware of the possible backlash of disclosure (stigma, judgment, co-worker resentment).
  4. Check with your HR Department about policies related to accommodations for disabilities.
  1. Decide on what specific reasonable accommodations you need to perform your job better.
  2. Think about how much information you want to disclose; develop a brief script with few details about your disability and requested accommodations to share with your supervisor or HR representative.

You may want to contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) before you talk to your employer. They can advise you about what and how to disclose, and what types of accommodations are usually offered based on your specific needs. You can print information from their website about accommodating mental disabilities to provide to your employer when you disclose. Doing so lets them know that you are aware of your rights and provides them with a resource for determining what accommodations may be reasonable in your situation.

JAN consults with employers and employees to work out reasonable accommodations upon request. The services are free of charge as JAN is a part of the US Department of Labor.

Discrimination

If you believe you have been discriminated against, you may file a claim at the EEOC office nearest you. In some cases, you have only 180 days to file. The claim will be investigated, which can take a long time. People who file claims are also protected legally from retaliation for making a claim. While it is difficult to prove retaliation, it happens. Document any concerns and report these to the EEOC.

Sources

Job Accommodation Network. (2014). Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Mental Health Impairments. JAN. Retrieved from http://askjan.org/media/Psychiatric.html

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2014.) Disability Discrimination. EEOC. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm

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