Here’s a cautionary tale for these dark days of winter: A federal jury just awarded $127,000 to an employee with seasonal affective disorder whose employer refused to give her a work area with natural light.
The employee, a public school teacher, suffered from depression and panic attacks while teaching in a classroom without windows. Her psychologist told the school district that natural light was key to her recovery, and two classrooms with windows were available.
But the district failed to move the teacher to one of these rooms. She then became unable to work, left her employment, and sued under the ADA.
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as “winter blues,” can cause otherwise stable people to feel emotional upset in winter. (Less frequently, people may experience the disorder in other seasons.) Symptoms include excessive sleeping, loss of energy and social withdrawal.
The courts found that there was no good reason for the school district to have refused to provide an ADA accommodation for the teacher. There would have been only minimal cost to move her equipment and make necessary administrative adjustments.
The ADA protects employees with serious mental conditions, as well as physical ones. If you have an employee with mental/emotional issues that impede his or her ability to work, your first thought should be: What can we reasonably do to mitigate the problem?
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