ADA trap for the unwary: Don’t label employees’ problems

When employees exhibit behavior problems, it can be tempting to label them with psychiatric terms (e.g. bipolar, narcissistic, OCD, schizophrenic).  This can be extremely dangerous from an ADA perspective, so put away that armchair psychology degree.  The ADA not only covers “disabilities,” but also individuals who are “regarded as” having disabilities. Thus, an employee who is perceived as being disabled and subjected to an adverse action based on this perception can have a solid claim under the statute.

So what should employers do?  Focus on the behavior, not the cause.  Instead of “It seems like James’ OCD is interfering with his ability to focus on his long-term assignment” say something like “James has consistently failed to focus on and make progress with respect to his long-term assignment.”

It’s a simple solution, but an easy mistake to make.  Make sure your supervisors understand this “regarded as” prong of the ADA.

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