Mental Illness and the ADA

HR Resource
April 2, 2013 — 2,496 views  
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The ADA, or the Americans with Disability Act, prohibits discrimination based on a person’s disability. It also gives out the terms and conditions for employing people with physical or mental illness in a job. This provision of the act has been expanded by the ADA Amendment Act (ADAAA) and by the legislations of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The act covers employers who have 25 or more employees, and this includes the local as well as the state governments. There are many provisions to this act that managers should be aware of, while selecting people with intellectual disabilities for employment.

Screening Employees

The ADA doesn’t cover everyone with intellectual impairment, meaning managers should be able to screen the prospective employees efficiently. An individual is covered by the ADA only if his illness limits one or more of his important activities in life.  These major life activities include walking, talking, sleeping, etc. which can normally be performed easily. Even if the employee does not have any serious impairment, he/she is subjected to ADA cover if he had any mental impairment in the past, which restricted his activities. Employees who do not have any limiting disabilities, but are still treated by employers as if they possess one, also come under the protection of the ADA.

Employee Interview

The ADAAA amendments made to the act limits employers while they are questioning the prospective employee with a disability. According to the act, an employer cannot ask questions related to the extent of the mental impairment, the hospitalization history, the medications taken, and the current treatment received. The act, however, permits employers to ask questions related to the ability of the employee to perform a job. This can include queries like if the applicant can lift objects of a certain weight and if he can organize files in the alphabetical and numerical order. In case the applicant informs the employer about his/her mental status or if the disability is extremely obvious, then the employer may ask about the accommodation status of the applicant and whether he requires accommodation.

Obtaining Medical Information

According to the EEOC guidelines, an employer can only obtain medical information from a prospective employee with disability, only after the job offer has been finalized. The employer should guarantee the applicant that no discrimination will be made due to his disability. The medical information obtained should be kept confidential by the employer and should not be disclosed in public or private, to a third party.

Job Training

Employers should offer special training modules to employees with mental illness. The employer should instruct the job supervisor to go on with the training at a slower pace. Additional time should be given to the employees to finish the job assignments. The job can be broken down into many steps and the training phase can be made memorable and interesting by the use of colored diagrams and charts. The employer should also provide additional and detailed training if any on-the-job changes suddenly arises. This will help in developing a healthy relationship between the company management and the concerned employees.

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