According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is described as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Clinical depression is considered a disability under the ADA, yet not everyone who experiences depression is protected.
Business owners should remember that just as no two people are the same, no two disabilities are either. While physical disabilities tend to be easy to recognize, mental disabilities can be difficult to identify. Generally, the ADA is applied on a case-by-case basis, so employers do have some autonomy working within the federal law and with their employees.
Depression and its effects are commonly misunderstood and mischaracterized. Depression is a grave mental condition that can affect someone’s ability to function in daily life. Unfortunately, depression is not considered a disability by many, which can mean that those who suffer its symptoms may face workplace discrimination.
For a person to be protected by the ADA, he or she must have at least one of the following conditions:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits an employee in performing a major life activity,
- A medical history of enduring a physical or mental ailment, or
- The perception of suffering due to a physical or mental impairment.
Employers should know that an employee with depression might be protected by the ADA if he or she can prove that the condition hinders his or her job performance. One factor that can prevent a person with depression from being protected under the ADA is self-treatment with drug or alcohol abuse. It is not uncommon for people with depression to self-medicate, but the ADA does not protect people with drug abuse problems, even if the underlying issue is a mental disability. However, the ADA does protect alcoholism in certain circumstances (see our previous blogs/videos for further information).
Importantly, an employee may not be able to file an ADA claim against you for discrimination if there was never a disclosure of the disability. As an employer, though, you should take every precaution to provide reasonable accommodations for any employee if you have been made aware of their depression.
In short, the ADA does recognize that clinical depression is a permanent and serious condition, but if the condition does not affect the employee’s ability to perform normal life activities or fulfill all of the necessary job requirements, then that employee likely will not be protected under the act.
Contact an Employment Lawyer Today
If you would like a consultation on how best to develop policies and practices to work with employees who might be experiencing depression – whether or not they are covered by the ADA, then contact an experienced employment law attorney. The professionals at Simon | Paschal, PLLC are here to help you. Our aim is that your business runs smoothly and your employees have the best possible environment for being productive. Contact us today.