For some people, mental impairments restrict major life activities such as learning, thinking, concentrating, interacting with others,15 caring for oneself, speaking, performing manual tasks, or working. For example, it may not be possible to accommodate an employee in his present position if he works as a salesperson on the busy first floor of a major department store and needs a reduction in visual distractions and ambient noise as a reasonable accommodation.
Sleeping is also a major life activity that may be limited by mental impairments.16 4. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "A Technical Assistance Manual on the Employment Provisions (Title I) of the Americans with Disabilities Act," at 3.4, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 401 (1992) [hereinafter Technical Assistance Manual]. See EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Workers' Compensation and the ADA at 17, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 499-7400 (1996) (where an employee can no longer perform the essential functions of his/her original position, with or without a reasonable accommodation, because of a disability, an employer must reassign him/her to an equivalent vacant position for which s/he is qualified, absent undue hardship).
Credible testimony from the individual with a disability and his/her family members, friends, or coworkers may suffice. When is an impairment sufficiently severe to substantially limit a major life activity?
An impairment is sufficiently severe to substantially limit a major life activity if it prevents an individual from performing a major life activity or significantly restricts the condition, manner, or duration under which an individual can perform a major life activity, as compared to the average person in the general population.20 An impairment does not significantly restrict major life activities if it results in only mild limitations. Should the corrective effects of medications be considered when deciding if an impairment is so severe that it substantially limits a major life activity? The ADA legislative history unequivocally states that the extent to which an impairment limits performance of a major life activity is assessed without regard to mitigating measures, including medications.21 Thus, an individual who is taking medication for a mental impairment has an ADA disability if there is evidence that the mental impairment, when left untreated, substantially limits a major life activity.22 Relevant evidence for EEOC investigators includes, for example, a description of how an individual's condition changed when s/he went off medication23 or needed to have dosages adjusted, or a description of his/her condition before starting medication.24 7.
Relevant evidence for EEOC investigators includes descriptions of an individual's typical level of functioning at home, at work, and in other settings, as well as evidence showing that the individual's functional limitations are linked to his/her impairment.
Expert testimony about substantial limitation is not necessarily required.
For example, stress, in itself, is not automatically a mental impairment.
Stress, however, may be shown to be related to a mental or physical impairment.
This employee's impairment (bipolar disorder) significantly restricts his major life activities of interacting with others and caring for himself, when considered without medication.
The effects of his impairment are severe, and their duration is indefinite and potentially long-term.
However, conditions that are temporary and have no permanent or long-term effects on an individual's major life activities are not substantially limiting.
For example, the DSM-IV lists several conditions that Congress expressly excluded from the ADA's definition of "disability."8 While DSM-IV covers conditions involving drug abuse, the ADA provides that the term "individual with a disability" does not include an individual who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs, when the covered entity acts on the basis of that use.9 The DSM-IV also includes conditions that are not mental disorders but for which people may seek treatment (for example, problems with a spouse or child).10 Because these conditions are not disorders, they are not impairments under the ADA.11 Even if a condition is an impairment, it is not automatically a "disability." To rise to the level of a "disability," an impairment must "substantially limit" one or more major life activities of the individual.12 2.
Are traits or behaviors in themselves mental impairments? Traits or behaviors are not, in themselves, mental impairments.