ADHD and Your Workplace Rights
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to guarantee that individuals with disabilities be exempt from discrimination.
ADHD is estimated to impact roughly 4% of the adult population, and the true percentage may be considerably higher, and is definitely growing. The effects of ADHD can be wide-ranging for those diagnosed with it. (1) From mild to severe symptoms, ADHD affects significant aspects of daily life, including social interactions, self-care, and of course, in the workplace.
In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted, and it is designed to guarantee that individuals with disabilities be exempt from discrimination and be given appropriate accommodations in the workplace.
The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment.” (2) But, not everyone who is diagnosed with ADHD necessarily qualifies as disabled, as simply being diagnosed is not enough to legitimize ADHD as a disability.
To be eligible for coverage under the ADA, an employee must provide proof that indicates their ADHD interferes with critical life activities or functions, such as work. The individual in question must be treated as having a disability, and pertinent records must reflect this status.
Because ADHD affects people to varying degrees, a person who has control over her ADHD symptoms probably won’t qualify for ADA protections. On the other hand, an employee with ADHD who struggles with severe distractibility, hyperactivity, and poor time management; to the extent that their ability to perform is hampered, is more likely to be covered under the ADA.
That said, it’s worth noting that people can and do find creative work-arounds that can resolve such challenges – by changing work-spaces, wearing headsets and using timers, to name a few. Such simple accommodations can be employed without a need to address ADHD or the ADA directly. I suggest exploring create solutions from this perspective first, since so much more can often be accomplished through a cooperative spirit of courtesy and good will.
So, what rights do employees with ADHD have under the ADA?
Certain protections are given to employees with ADHD who are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Employers cannot discriminate against these employees and must provide reasonable accommodations to assist them in their jobs.
This statute applies only to companies with 15 or more employees. In situations where ADHD employees work for companies with fewer than 15 employees, state anti-discrimination laws can be referred to should there be suspicion of discrimination.
When an individual with an ADHD diagnosis is covered by the ADA, it is the obligation of the employer to discuss how the condition affects the employee’s ability to work and to offer solutions that will assist the employee in doing her job.
What are reasonable and non-reasonable accommodations?
There is sometimes confusion as to what constitutes reasonable accommodations, and what does not qualify. Often it depends entirely on a company’s size and individual circumstances. The demands of the business must be met by the accommodations provided by the employer. (3)
For example, if an employee with ADHD has a high rate of distractibility, it might be easier to move their desk to a quieter area of a company that operates in a large building. That same accommodation might not be realistic, practical, or reasonable if the employee works for a smaller company in a tiny facility.
Similarly, if having an office assistant would help an ADHD employee stay focused and organized, a larger company with more capital may be able to provide that help. A smaller company with less overhead and an inability to hire new personnel might not be able to offer that assistant.
What if an employer refuses to provide reasonable accommodations?
In a situation where an employer is deemed to exhibit discrimination against an employee, it’s recommended to contact your company’s employee relations specialist. Document each example of and conversation about discrimination with company managers, so there are specific dates and details to provide to an attorney, should that be necessary.
A reputable employment attorney who is well versed in ADA law can assist an employee in negotiating a better working environment with management. Negotiation is always the best first step before considering lawsuits and litigation.
Familiarity with the Americans With Disabilities Act is advised for people with ADHD and for all employers. Knowledge is critical from both the employees and management’s perspectives, so that companies and their employees are both able to contribute to a positive working environment!