DSM-V May Expand Protections For Workers With Psychological Disabilities

The American Psychiatric Association recently released a long-awaited update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which some say may expand workers' protection from disability-related employment discrimination.

The latest edition of the manual, known as DSM-V, contains expanded definitions of certain psychological conditions, which could result in more people being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, social communication disorder or other potentially disabling mental conditions.

Psychological disabilities and the ADA

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, it is illegal for most employers to discriminate against workers or job applicants on the basis of a disability, whether physical or mental. The ADA also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees and applicants, for instance by making adjustments to their job duties or the manner in which they are performed.

The ADA provides that a person is considered disabled by a psychological condition if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. According to guidelines established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, major life activities include, among others:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Working
  • Talking
  • Sleeping
  • Concentrating
  • Interacting with others

It is against the law for employers to question job applicants about their medical or psychiatric histories during the interview process. However, employers may ask objective questions that will help them assess an applicant's ability to perform the job. Acceptable inquiries may include questions about an applicant's ability to interact with others, finish tasks on time or perform physical labor as necessary for the job.

Reasonable accommodations for psychological disabilities

Employers are typically required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with psychological disabilities, but only if those disabilities are known to the employer. Therefore, in most cases, a disabled employee typically must inform his or her employer of the need for reasonable accommodations before the employer can be required to provide such accommodation. Depending on the circumstances, reasonable accommodations for employees with psychological disabilities may include:

  • Providing a flexible work schedule
  • Adjusting job duties
  • Granting paid or unpaid leave during periods of incapacity or hospitalization
  • Modifying work hours or granting time off to accommodate the worker's appointments with doctors or mental health professionals
  • Providing frequent feedback and guidance on the job

Contact an attorney if you experience discrimination

If you have been affected by illegal discrimination in the workplace because of a physical or psychological disability, you have the right to seek a resolution through the legal system. Contact an experienced employment discrimination lawyer to discuss the specific circumstances of your case and evaluate your options for moving forward.