Employees are alleging discrimination based upon mental health conditions in record number. In 2016 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received over 5,000 charges challenging employer actions based on mental health conditions and obtained over $20 million for employees and applicants who brought claims based upon discrimination or perceived discrimination. One in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Many reputable sources report that the rates of mental illness in NYC mirror the national data. In November 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an $850 million plan with 54 separate initiatives aimed at addressing mental illness in New York City. The prevalence of these disorders therefore, has a significant impact upon the workplace and upon employers and their accommodation policies and procedures.
In light of the increased claims, and indicative of the EEOC’s focus on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), on Dec. 12, 2016, the EEOC issued a publication entitled “Depression, PTSD & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights.” The publication was touted as a resource document for individuals with mental health issues. The goal of the document is to inform them that workplace discrimination and harassment because of their condition is prohibited, they are entitled to privacy in the workplace, and they may have a right to obtain reasonable accommodations to enable them to perform or retain their position with their employer. While this guidance largely interprets existing law, the announcement pushes the limits of the ADA and signals that the EEOC is likely to expand protections via a focus on enforcement. The increased scrutiny and enforcement effort will have significant ramifications for New York employers who are already struggling to keep up with the fluid employment law landscape.
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