Work-Related Stress and the Americans with Disabilities Act

April 11, 2016

With increasing frequency employees are claiming disabilities based on work-related stress. Some employees are asking for accommodations such as transfers to new supervisors, working from home, additional leave, and alternative jobs. These requests may require an employer to make a determination of whether the employee has a disability and potential accommodations for the alleged disability.

Is Stress a Disability?

Under the broader definition of disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments, extreme stress may constitute a disability. Since an employer cannot know with certainty whether the condition constitutes a disability, a cautious employer should be willing to at least explore possible accommodations. If the employee’s condition is actually a disability, the employer’s obligation is to determine whether a reasonable accommodation would enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.

Considerations When Employee Claims a Stress Condition:

  1. If an employee raises a stress-related condition, insist on a medical explanation.
  2. Consider the scope and duration of limitations described by the physician to determine if the condition meets the definition of a disability.   
  3. If the condition may be a disability, engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine if he or she can perform his or her job functions with an accommodation.
  4. You must consider light duty or other accommodations given to employees on workers compensation or who have taken leave for illness which could determine the scope of accommodations.
  5. An employee does not have the right to demand any accommodation; the ultimate determination belongs to the employer.
  6. You generally are not required to transfer an employee to a new supervisor or allow the employee to work from home.
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