Is reducing workplace stress a reasonable accommodation under the ADA?

Isn’t the Americans with Disabilities Act fun? Oh, right, it’s the federal employment law that y’all voted the one that keeps you up most at night. ADA garnered 30% of the votes in yesterday’s hella-lazy blog post of a poll. FMLA and FLSA tied for second with 23% of the vote each.

So, how about today’s puzzler? How the heck do you reduce workplace stress to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability. Well, in many cases, I’m pretty sure that the answer is a Swedish massage, scented candles, and a FourLokoTini you can’t.

In certain situations, there may be no reasonable accommodation available.

Like where a police officer with a disability put in a request through his doctor that his employer accommodate him by reducing the level of stress to which he may be exposed in his day-to-day activities. Now, assume for a moment that there were no other open positions available for which the officer was qualified. What then could the employer have done to accommodate the officer without creating an undue burden for itself? According to one federal court (in this opinion), nada:

The unpredictable and stressful situations with which Valdes admittedly dealt as a lieutenant, which include making numerous arrests, responding to gun violence, and performing emergency resuscitation on a heart attack victim, are the precise kinds of emergency circumstances inherent to police work. The ability to respond to stressful situations is even more critical for a lieutenant, the sole supervisor of a team of patrol officers and sergeants, than for a police officer, who is likely one of multiple officers on duty at a given time….Because Valdes could not perform these functions, even with the accommodations he requested, Valdes is not a “qualified individual” under the ADA.

Other times, however, there may be a reasonable accommodation.

Well, ok, so maybe you don’t run a police department. But, stress in the workplace is pretty much inevitable. (And even anxiety from possibly getting fired is an ADA disability). Still, before you summarily dismiss the request of an employee with a disability to reduce the stress level in the workplace, engage the employee in an interactive dialogue to discuss the range of possible accommodations. And, depending on your business, consider the following:

  1. Are there some non-essential job functions that you could redistribute to other employees?
  2. Do you have an EAP that could help this employee with stress management?
  3. Can you adjust the employee’s schedule to allow the employee to seek professional treatment to mitigate stress?
  4. Is there a less-stressful available position for which the employee is qualified?
  5. Have you offered FMLA (assuming the employee qualifies)? Or maybe a brief period of leave under the ADA?

Ultimately, an individual with a disability needs to be able to perform the essential functions of the job. But, if a reasonable accommodation will permit that, then you need to provide it.

  • Managing

    Forgive me but I always “like” the (transferring) “some non-essential job functions that you could redistribute to other employees.”

    This in turn will piss off and stress out the employee who now has to do someone elses work. The employees who assume the work have to work with the stressed out employee needing the accommodation who will then complain to me that the person is a hysteric who works themselves up into a frenzy over nothing then when the person no longer has to work because tasks have been redistributed spend the rest of their time walking around, shooting the breeze and yucking it up with everyone that they can find. What’s worse, they yuck it up WITH THE PERSON WHO IS NOW DOING THEIR WORK.

    I had a professor in college who would tell the students if you can’t take the heat of your profession, there’s always basket weaving. Do that.

  • FarmerGeorge

    There is a very nice non-published case holding that under California law, stress caused by a particular manager can be reasonably accommodated by giving the employee another supervisor. And refusing to do so violates California’s version of the ADA, FEHA.