The government told employers Tuesday they may not discriminate against qualified workers with mental illness, may not ask job applicants if they have a history of mental illness and must take reasonable steps to accommodate employees with psychiatric or emotional problems.
The guidance, issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to carry out the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, said employers are not required to lower their standards for performance.
But, it said, they may have to allow extra time off from work, alter work schedules or assignments and make physical changes in the workplace as a “reasonable accommodation” for employees with mental disabilities.
The law defines “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.” But until now, the government focused on physical disabilities and provided few answers about the law’s meaning for people with psychiatric disorders.
Such disabilities may include major depression, bipolar disorder (manic depression), schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and personality disorders, the commission said.
Nearly 13 percent of all complaints filed with the EEOC under the disabilities law in the last four years - 9,216 of 72,687 - alleged discrimination resulting from emotional or psychiatric impairments, the largest source of complaints after back problems.
The National Institute of Mental Health says 1 in 10 Americans experiences some disability from a diagnosable mental illness in the course of a year.