Employee's Self-Diagnosed Disability Is Not Protected Under ADA
Posted: May 5, 2021
When an employee discloses a disability, typically that triggers an employer's responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
But what happens when that worker was not officially diagnosed with their alleged disability?
Susan Jones worked as an accounts technician at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Nashville when she let her manager know about her depression and anxiety after her performance began to suffer.
When asked to produce a doctor's note, Jones did — however the note simply said she was starting a new medication and had "difficulty concentrating," and her performance should improve in a few weeks.
When Jones' performance did not improve, she was let go. Jones sued, claiming disability discrimination (Jones v. McDonough).
But a court ruled in the employer's favor. It said Jones was never diagnosed with depression and anxiety — she had diagnosed herself. The doctor's note made no indication that she had an ongoing mental condition — and workers who self-diagnose their disabilities are not protected under the ADA, the court said.
The plaintiff's self-diagnosis of those conditions, however, is not sufficient to establish that she suffers from a mental or emotional illness. The plaintiff is certainly qualified to offer testimony regarding her symptoms and the degree to which her symptoms impaired her ability to function, but, to establish that she was disabled, she must first offer evidence from which a jury could find that she actually suffered from an "impairment."
In the context of mental health impairments and other impairments based upon a specific medical condition, however, courts have regularly held that a self-diagnosis is not sufficient to establish the existence of an impairment.
This acts as a reminder to always receive the proper documentation from employees before getting the ADA involved.
Posted In: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Quit, Resigned, Termination of Employment, etc.
Want to know more? Read the full article by Rachel Mucha at HR Morning