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Can an Employee Be Discriminated Against Because of ADHD?
Adults with ADHD often have career problems and feel they are underachieving. They may have trouble holding jobs and following office routines. Yet, ADHD is frequently accompanied by creativity, energy and original thinking, and such traits can be of value on the job. Employers who discriminate against workers with ADHD not only miss out on possible assets, they could also face legal challenges.
What Is ADHD?
Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects management systems of the brain. Affected adults have trouble concentrating and staying focused and are easily distracted. Their attention may wander even in a conversation, and they may have a hard time following directions. While they become easily distracted from tasks they find boring, they may become deeply absorbed -- hyperfocused -- in jobs that are interesting to them.
ADHD adults have trouble organizing things, and their homes, workplaces, desks and cars are often a mess. They may forget appointments, lose essential items, procrastinate and leave projects unfinished. Impulsive ADHD adults interrupt others while speaking or rush through tasks without following instructions. They are subject to mood swings, easily stressed and short-tempered. There are no specific medical or physical tests for ADHD, but a health professional trained in diagnosing ADD/ADHD can use various questions and checklists to rule out other conditions and diagnose ADHD.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits companies with 15 or more employees from discriminating against people with disabilities. It requires them to provide equal opportunities to all employees in hiring, pay and benefits, job assignments, training and promotions. It is also illegal to harass a person because of a disability. The ADA covers mental conditions such as ADHD, but a diagnosis alone is not enough to cover an employee. The worker must have a significant limitation in a major life activity such as walking, speaking, seeing, hearing or learning, and must be able to perform the essential job functions with or without accommodation. Mild ADHD symptoms do not qualify. In 2008, the ADA was amended to include guidelines to determine if a person is considered legally disabled if he is able to work only because he takes medication for the condition.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
A prospective employer is not allowed to ask applicants about medical history or psychiatric problems. Current employers can’t ask such questions, either, and the worker shouldn’t volunteer the information. However, both prospective and current employers can ask about a disability if the worker or applicant asks for accommodation. The ADA requires that reasonable accommodations must be made for an employee or applicant with a disability.
Accommodations must be provided if doing so is not an unreasonable hardship for the employer. For a worker with ADHD, accommodations could include flexible work schedules such as allowing the employee to work from home or reassignment to a different department. Other accommodations might allow the worker to wear earphones to shut out distractions, to work inside a closed office, and to receive instructions in writing rather than verbally. Employers can extend deadlines, reduce workplace distractions, or break up large assignments. An employer cannot pay a worker with ADHD less than other employees doing the same job simply because the worker has asked for accommodations.
An employee who believes he has been discriminated against because he has ADHD should document incidents that appear to be discriminatory. He should first try to work out a solution with his supervisor. If such efforts fail, the employee can contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a complaint.
As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.