(This is Part IV in a five-part series on bipolar. To catch up, see Bipolar on the Job Part I: “Will I Be Able to Return to Work?” Part II: “To Tell or Not to Tell?” and Part III, “How to Talk about Bipolar Disorder.” )
When you receive a bipolar diagnosis (and disclose it to your employer), you gain protection under the law via the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As long as your employer is on notice of the problem and you’ve expressed some desire to get help, your employer is required to engage in a dialogue with you to determine whether reasonable accommodations would enable you to perform the essential functions of the job.
When most people first hear about the ADA, they mistakenly assume that it’s restricted to physical disabilities, such as not being able to lift something heavy or walk up a flight of stairs. However, as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out in its online publication entitled “Filing an ADA Employment Discrimination Charge: Making It Work for You“:
… the law is for people with psychiatric disabilities, too. It forbids discrimination against people with both physical and mental disabilities in employment, transportation, public facilities, and public communications. The ADA’s employment requirements are especially important for people with psychiatric disabilities. This is because many employers share society’s fear, prejudices, and lack of information about mental illness.
To qualify for protection under the ADA, your situation must meet the following conditions. You…
This brings us to the question of accommodations, and reasonable ones at that. Here’s SAMHSA’s definition of reasonable accommodations:
Accommodations are changes to the work environment or the way things are usually done that allow an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. An accommodation is not considered reasonable if it creates an “undue hardship” for the employer. Undue hardship refers not only to financial hardship, but also to accommodations that are overly extensive or disruptive, or that would change the nature or operation of a business.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers a free booklet on what are considered “reasonable accommodations” complete with instructions on how to go about requesting them: Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Before you spend the weekend wading through that publication, however, you might want to check out the Job Accommodation Network’s “Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Bipolar Disorder” by Kendra M. Duckworth. This publication can help you identify accommodations that people with bipolar disorder find particularly helpful. The article groups the accommodations to address particular issues, as presented in the following sections.
We would like to hear from anyone who’s had experience in this area – employees with bipolar, employers who have made accommodations, attorneys, psychiatrists, therapists, and anyone else who can offer some valuable insight, advice, or tips about implementing reasonable workplace accommodations for employees with bipolar disorder.
Join us next week for Part V of this series: “What If I Can’t Work? Protecting Your Rights” when we offer some suggestions on protecting your rights as an employee if you find yourself in a position in which you can no longer perform your job duties even with reasonable accommodations.
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Last reviewed: 29 Dec 2009