New EEOC guidelines for psychologically disabled workers

by on May 21, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Employers must help psychologically disabled keep the rules, under new EEOC guidelines

Ever have a troubled employee “go off” at colleagues? Now, new EEOC guidelines suggest you may have a duty to accommodate such potentially explosive people if they have a bona fide psychological disability or risk an EEOC complaint. This view came in a recent guidance letter on changes to EEOC guidelines from the agency.

What the EEOC compliance letter said:

  • You aren’t required to excuse violations of policy – on workplace violence, respect for co-workers and so forth – by employees who suffer from psychological disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • But if you decide not to fire an offending employee, and he asks for an accommodation to help him avoid future violations, you must look for one

An example: Your employee Mr. X has a medically diagnosed disability that makes him lose his temper. As a result, he yells abusively at a colleague. You decide your policy on courtesy doesn’t require termination for the incident, and you suspend him for a week Afterward, he asks for help in coping with his problem. At that point, the EEOC guidelines say, you can’t brush him off.

If you tell the employee the problem is his to deal with, that’s an unacceptable response and you’re violating the ADA.


It’s ADA-acceptable to let him:

  • take time off to seek treatment
  • take more or longer breaks
  • call a therapist from work, irrespective of any policy on personal calls, or
  • work from home on days when his symptoms are acute. In the end, you may conclude such measures would cause undue hardship.

If they do, you’re off the hook – but you at least have to consider them.

Note: EEOC guidance letters respond to an employer’s request for agency comment. They’re not binding, but give insight into the agency’s thinking.

See letter at

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