High Anxiety

Dark Clouds

All this may come as big news, but the fact is that the ADA--usually thought to encompass only physical handicaps--also covers a range of psychiatric conditions, from major depression through schizophrenia. By law, individuals suffering from these disorders are protected from discrimination in hiring or employment, with the EEOC required to put some muscle in the protection.

A key requirement of the ADA is that employers must provide disabled workers with "reasonable accommodations" if such accommodations will enable them to perform their jobs. Accommodations can range from inexpensive wall partitions to budget-busters: "An employer may be required to provide a job coach to assist in the training of an individual with a disability," says a representative of the EEOC.

Sift through the EEOC's interpretation of the ADA's psychiatric components, and worries may set in. Some legal experts share those concerns. "The EEOC guidelines regarding emotional disabilities are completely out of place in the modern work world," says Brooks Kubik, an employment lawyer with law firm Stites & Harbison in Louisville, Kentucky.

To small-business owners, the EEOC's involvement in psychiatric workplace issues may seem unnecessary at best--and invasive at worst. Ask the emotionally disabled, however, and they are adamant that they have been discriminated against in employment situations. A survey released by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in 1997 claims that one in three individuals with severe mental illnesses were turned down for jobs on that score.

What's more, "many of the 12 million people with disabilities in this country are capable of effective work if given the opportunity," says Peter Blanck, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and director of the Iowa Law & Disability Center, who is regarded as one of the nation's top ADA experts. "The biggest complaint of many employers is they cannot find good people in today's tight job market. And many disabled [individuals] will be good, productive workers."

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: High Anxiety.

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