The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was amended in 2008 to include bipolar disorder as a covered condition.

The original 1988 law was designed to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in hiring, job assignments, promotions, firing, pay, layoffs, benefits and other employment-related activities. It states that if a disability causes impairment that “substantially limits” a person’s ability to handle “major life activities,” whether on or off the job, the employer must follow ADA rules in treating the disabled person.

Reasonable accommodations that employers must provide under the ADA may involve job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, or adjusting examinations or policies. It may mean a change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits an applicant or employee to participate in the application process, to perform the essential functions of a job or to obtain the benefits of employment that those without disabilities have.

To gain accommodations, an employee must disclose the fact that they have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or another mental or physical disability) and make request for accommodations. Those who believe they have been discriminated against can report discrimination and file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The claim must be filed within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation or 300 days if the charge is also covered by state or local laws. The EEOC has an intake questionnaire to help you determine if you are eligible to file a charge. It can be filled out online or at the nearest EEOC office. Charges themselves cannot be filed online.

For ADA purposes, major life activities that may be limited by a mental health disorder could include learning, thinking, concentrating, interacting with others, caring for oneself, speaking, or performing manual tasks. Sleep also may be limited in such a way that daily activities are impaired.

Someone with bipolar disorder may temporarily experience “limits” to handling life activities. A deep bout of depression or insomnia may create a need for time off or for flexible hours. An individual may need time off for doctor appointments. In the daily work environment he or she may need a quieter work area to decrease stress and enhance concentration or more frequent breaks to take a walk or do a relaxation exercise. He or she may need office supplies to help them organize and focus more effectively.

To improve their work experience and productivity, individuals with bipolar disorder may need to create good structure to their day and to their eating and sleeping habits. They may need to develop special organizing behaviors and divide large assignments into smaller tasks. They will benefit from a firm schedule for work activities and rest, as well as strategies to manage stress and reduce distractions.

Disability by itself is not enough to be protected from job discrimination by the ADA. An individual must satisfy the employer’s requirements for the job, such as education, experience, skills or licenses. He or she must also be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

Employers may be exempted from ADA rules under several conditions including cost, disruption to business, or health and safety, but regardless of whether these conditions exist, employees still can file a claim with the EEOC. The company will have to prove its assertions of inability to provide reasonable accommodations to deny them legally.


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