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Bipolar Disorder and the Americans With Disabilities Act

Part 1: Coverage Under the ADA


Updated July 29, 2014

The ADA covers ALL types of disabilities

The ADA covers mental disorders as well as physical conditions.

Echo / Cultura / Getty Images

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in hiring, job assignments, promotions, pay, firing, benefits, layoffs and all other employment-related activities.

In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that, "The Act also makes it unlawful to discriminate against an applicant or employee, whether disabled or not, because of the individual's family, business, social or other relationship or association with an individual with a disability." For example, the spouse of a person with bipolar disorder is protected if a husband/wife requires emergency hospitalization and the spouse must be away from work without warning because of this.

The ADA is administered by the EEOC. Bipolar disorder is one of the many conditions covered by the Act. ("Disability," in this context, is not related to Social Security Disability.)

If it is determined that the disability causes an impairment that "substantially limits" the person's ability to handle "major-life activities," the employer is obliged to follow the rules of the ADA in the way the affected person is treated. This means providing one or more "reasonable accommodations" to the disabled employee.

The limited or impaired major-life activity can be one that occurs on or off the job. The ruling factor is that it affects some aspect of your on-the-job activities, and that activity does not have to be doing the job. An example given by the EEOC was of a person whose medications caused dry mouth. He needed to drink something about once an hour because of this, but his employer's policy was that people could not have beverages at their desks and could only have two 15-minute breaks per day. It was reasonable to allow this man to have a beverage at his desk once an hour.

1. The employer can show that making an accommodation would cause the company undue hardship, such as accommodations that are excessively costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. The size of the business, its financial resources and other factors can be taken into account.

2. The employee is deemed to be a direct threat to the health and safety of him/herself or others.

If accommodation is denied or employment is terminated for one of these reasons, the employee can file a claim with the EEOC, and the company will have to prove its assertions.

Also, businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not subject to the ADA.

What Is a Major-Life Activity?
"Major-life activities" for people with physical disabilities are generally obvious -- things like walking, seeing, hearing and lifting. For those with psychiatric disabilities, though, they are harder to define. According to the EEOC:

The major-life activities limited by mental impairments differ from person to person. There is no exhaustive list of major-life activities. For some people, mental impairments restrict major-life activities, such as learning, thinking, concentrating, interacting with others, caring for oneself, speaking, performing manual tasks or working. Sleeping is also a major-life activity that may be limited by mental impairments.
Go to Part 2: Reasonable Accommodations and Claims



Instructions for Field Offices: Analyzing Ada Charges After Supreme Court Decisions Addressing "Disability" and "Qualified". 13 Dec 1999. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2 May 2008.

EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities. 01 Feb 2000. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2 May 2008.

The ADA - Americans With Disabilities Act. 10 Jan 2007. NAMI. 2 May 2008.

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