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The Americans With Disabilties Act and You

Know Your Rights


Updated October 18, 2012

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), came into effect on July 26, 1992. This important legislation prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. This act applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Are You Covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act?

Persons covered by this act include anyone who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • has a record of such an impairment; or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment.

Although clinical depression is a mental impairment under the ADA, not everyone with clinical depression will qualify for coverage. In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled ( Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. and Albertson's Inc. v. Kirkinburg) that the determination of whether a person has an ADA "disability" must take into consideration whether the person is substantially limited in performing a major life activity when using a "mitigating measure". This means that even though clinical depression is a permanent condition, if you are able through medications and therapy to perform major life activities without difficulty you will not meet the ADA's definition of "disability."

Some feel that these decisions weakened the ADA as it applies to those with depression. Those diagnosed with depression will no longer automatically fall under the ADA's protection. This does not mean, however, that persons with depression are without recourse. Instead, it means that they must prove that they continue to experience limitations despite their medications and therapy. If your job performance is compromised by your illness despite the fact that you are in treatment, you would still be protected under the ADA.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Because self-medication with drugs and alcohol are so common among those with depression, it is important to note that the ADA does not cover those with a substance abuse problem. Any employee with a substance abuse problem can be held to the same standards as other employees. If your employer does not know about your depression and then later discovers a substance abuse problem, you will not be protected.

What Are Your Rights Under the Americans With Disabilities Act?

Under the ADA, employers are required to make what is called a "reasonable accommodation" to those with a known disability if it would not impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business. Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer's size, financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation. An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation.

Examples of reasonable accommodation for those with depression might include:

  • clear delineation of performance expectations,
  • schedules which incorporate flex-time,
  • part-time positions or job sharing,
  • time off for scheduled medical appointments or support groups,
  • the use of break time according to individual needs rather than a fixed schedule,
  • physical arrangements (such as room partitions or an enclosed office space) to reduce noise or visual distractions,
  • extending additional leave to allow a worker to keep his or her job after a hospitalization,
  • allowing workers to phone supportive friends, family members, or professionals during the work day,
  • joint meetings between the employer, supervisor, and job coach or other employment service provider.
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