A jury recently awarded a man with an anxiety disorder $450,000 after his employer failed to heed his warnings about celebrating his birthday. The man had requested that the company not celebrate his birthday out of fear that it would cause him a panic attack and worsen his condition. Unfortunately, the company threw him a party anyway, which caused the man to have a panic attack. Within days, the man was terminated from his position with a letter stating he was being fired “because of the events of the previous week.” Read on to learn how failure to honor ADA accommodations at work led to this man’s successful discrimination case.
In this article, we’ll discuss the case, its outcome, and the laws that were violated. Then we’ll look at some common accommodations for employees with mental health conditions.
Kevin Berling was employed by Gravity Diagnostics in Kentucky. Berling suffers from anxiety and had asked his employer not to celebrate his birthday or single him out because of the stress it would cause him. Despite Berling’s warnings, the company threw a surprise lunchtime birthday party, causing Berling to have a panic attack.
In response, Berling left the building and texted his manager, communicating his disappointment that they failed to accommodate his request. The next day, Berling was called into a meeting where he was criticized for his reaction to the birthday party. The meeting triggered yet another panic attack, which led to Berlin’s dismissal from work. A few days later, he was fired with a letter telling him his termination was “because of the events of the previous week.”
Berling filed a lawsuit against his former employer, alleging that they failed to accommodate his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, as long as those accommodations do not create an undue hardship for the employer. In this case, Berling’s attorney argued that accommodating his request not to have a birthday celebration would not have been unduly burdensome for the company.
The jury agreed with Berling and awarded him $450,000 in damages.
The ADA Protects Those With Mental Health Diagnoses
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities, including mental health conditions that interfere with major life activities. This includes failure to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, as was the case in this instance.
By not accommodating Berling’s request, the company violated his rights under the ADA and ultimately ended up with a large jury award against it as a result.
This case highlights the importance of understanding and accommodating employees with mental health conditions. Employers must be willing to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, or they could end up facing costly lawsuits. In addition, it’s crucial for employers to create a workplace culture that is supportive of employees’ mental health needs. Employees should feel comfortable discussing their accommodation needs with their employer and should not have to worry about being discriminated against because of them.
If you are an employee with a mental health diagnosis, don’t hesitate to speak up if you need a reasonable accommodation in order to do your job. If there are 15 or more employees in your workplace, your employer is required by law to accommodate your needs, as long as they are reasonable.
Common ADA Accommodations at Work for Employees With Mental Health Conditions
While not all mental health conditions are disabling, some can interfere with an individual’s ability to work. Employers have a legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with mental health conditions (sometimes called “invisible” disabilities), just as they would for employees with physical disabilities. Some common accommodations for mental health conditions include:
- Flexible work schedules
- The ability to telecommute or work from home
- Temporary leave to adjust to new medication or receive intensive counseling related to mental health
- Flexible or more frequent breaks
- Regularly scheduled meetings to discuss workplace issues and productivity
Jackson Spencer Attorneys Can Protect Your Rights Under the ADA
Mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of, and we should all work together to create a more understanding and supportive world for those who live with them.
Contact our office if you feel you have been wrongfully terminated, demoted, suffered a pay decrease, refused a reasonable accommodation, or otherwise discriminated against for a mental health condition. We’ll help you determine if we are the right law firm to help you protect your rights.