Disability Discrimination Based on Mental Illness

Legal Guidance for Atlanta Workers and EmployersMental and psychological illnesses can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including employment. It is illegal for an employer to take adverse actions against a worker based on a mental or psychological condition that meets the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you have a legal issue involving discrimination in Atlanta or a nearby city, the employment law attorneys at Mays & Kerr have the skills and experience to help you understand your rights and obligations.Mental Illness

According to 2012 data from the National Institute on Mental Health, 18.6% of adults in the United States suffer from a psychological condition. During that same time period, approximately 9.6 million adults, or 4.1% of the U.S. adult population, had a serious mental illness within the past year. This designation was applied to anyone who had a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment that substantially interfered with a major life activity. The condition had to last for a duration sufficient to meet diagnostic criteria.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Federal employment discrimination laws, including the ADA, are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Before bringing a lawsuit under the ADA, an employee must first file a charge with the EEOC. An employee only has 180 days after the discrimination to take action.

The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more workers. It prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals” based on disability. This means that it applies to all people who can perform the essential functions of the job, whether or not they have a reasonable accommodation. Employers may not discriminate in application procedures, hiring, promotions, termination, or compensation. Furthermore, they are not allowed to limit, segregate, or classify an applicant or employee in a way that would adversely affect his or her status or opportunities. Employers must make reasonable accommodations for an individual if doing so would not impose an undue hardship on the functioning of the enterprise. They may not use screening criteria to eliminate candidates with disabilities unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Under the ADA, the term “disability” applies when a person has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, has a record of a condition that substantially limits a major life activity, or is regarded as having such an impairment.

ADA Amendments Act of 2008

In 2008, Congress amended the ADA to broaden its scope, partly in response to a series of Supreme Court decisions that denied protection for individuals with a variety of serious conditions. The Amendment added rules of construction, stating that the definition of “disability” is to be construed “in favor of broad coverage of individuals.”

Furthermore, under this law, the determination of whether an impairment sufficiently limits a major life activity to be considered a disability now is made without considering mitigating measures, including medication and learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications. This change is particularly relevant to people with mental illnesses, who may find that medications sometimes have difficult side effects and require modification.

Additionally, an impairment that is episodic or in remission is also measured by whether it would limit a major life function when active. This addition to the law allows more people with mental illnesses to receive the protection of the ADA. Many psychological conditions, including bi-polar disorder and depression, can result in impairment of major life activities during certain periods but not others.

The regulations also expressly specify a number of illnesses that will generally meet the definition of disability, including autism, intellectual disability, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia. These changes to the law mean that a large number of people with a variety of impairments are now protected by the ADA who previously would not have been.

Georgia Law

Georgia law also gives a person with a disability “who is aggrieved by an unfair employment practice” the right to pursue a civil action within 180 days after the conduct occurred. O.C.G.A. 34-6A-6. Under state law, a person is considered an “individual with disabilities” if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or has a record of it. However, the definition specifically excludes drug and alcohol addiction.

Consult an Atlanta Attorney for Matters Involving Disability Discrimination

The disability discrimination lawyers at Mays & Kerr understand the intricate rules that apply to individuals and companies in the Atlanta region. If you are concerned about whether a policy or practice may violate state or federal requirements, we will be happy to discuss the nuances of your situation with you. Call us at 1-877-986-5529 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.