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Mental disability and professionals: work with legal counsel to protect your rights, P.2

In our previous post, we began looking at the case of an out-of-state surgeon who was allegedly terminated because of behavior issues related to a disability of which his employer was well aware. As we noted last time, a Minnesota psychologist who evaluated the surgeon documented some of the surgeon’s behavioral challenges. It isn’t known whether the psychologist made any official diagnosis, though.  

One of the grounds for the surgeon’s lawsuit is that his employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, mental impairments which substantially limit one or more major life activities and which are on record or known are entitled to protection under the ADA just as are those with physical disabilities.

As readers may know, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations and adjustments for those with known disabilities to allow them to perform essential job functions. Generally, employers are only required to provide reasonable accommodations when they are requested. There are some limitations on the reasonable accommodation requirement.

In cases where an accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer, there is no obligation to provide the accommodation. Exactly what constitutes an undue hardship, of course, can be subject to dispute. In addition, essential job functions do not need to be reallocated as an accommodation.

Employers may hold disabled employees to performance standards, but these standards must not be more burdensome than those imposed on other employees with similar disabilities with the same essential job functions. Employers are also allowed to consider health and safety issues in deciding whether to retain a disabled employee, but there must be objective evidence of a significant risk of substantial harm for an employer to base termination on an employee’s disability.

We’ll pick back up on this topic in our next post.

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