Recap of the EEOC’s Public Meeting Discussing the Employment of People with Mental Disabilities

The EEOC held a public meeting on Tuesday to discuss the employment of people with mental disabilities -“a group whose rate of unemployment and underemployment far exceeds the national average.” As I discussed in my post on March 1, the EEOC has been working to dismantle employment barriers. As part of its efforts, the Commission has been actively holding and publicizing its meetings this year. In 2009, for example, the EEOC website shows that four public meetings were held; three in 2010; and only halfway through March in 2011, three public meetings have already taken place.

The meeting agenda included three panel discussions:

  • Employment Rates of People with Mental Disabilities;
  • Requirements of the ADA, Strategies to Comply and Outcomes for People with Mental Disabilities; and
  • Litigation to Enforce the Rights of People with Mental Disabilities.

The need for this meeting is underscored by the fact that the employment rate for people with serious mental illness is less than half the employment rate for other disability groups.

The reasons for the low labor force participation rate for persons with intellectual disabilities are complex and involve issues around employer perspectives, systemic barriers, provider practices, individual and family concerns and funding issues.

– Dr. William Kiernan, Director, Institute for Community Inclusion

As reiterated by EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien, employers need to understand the ADA and how to comply. Mental impairments that substantially limit one or more of the major life activities are included in the definition of “disability,” and may require reasonable accommodation, just as physical disabilities do. Further, as noted by EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Markus Penzel, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act is particularly helpful to people with psychiatric disabilities – as it clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it substantially limits a major life activity.

Some employers were highlighted that have created “exemplary” environments of flexibility and accommodation:

  • HP, Boeing, Tektronix, Physiocontrol, and United Technologies have all restructured work environments and orientation and training practices to accommodate people with significant sensory and cognitive impairments.
  • Pizza Hut changed their recruitment, orientation, mentoring and team-building practices, resulting in over 35,000 jobs for people with disabilities, reducing costs associated with high turnover and low job retention.
  • Starbucks has created flexible work hours – originally to bring working moms back to the workforce– which they now use to help people with disabilities to join the workforce.
  • Ben and Jerry’s is perhaps the “gold standard” for paying attention to their employee’s well being and creating a culture for positive and participatory solutions for the entire workforce.
  • Marriott Corporation has sponsored some important projects accommodating people with psychiatric disabilities that have benefited the broader workforce.

ADA issues show up more often that one might think. Check out the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog for an interesting perspective on whether Charlie Sheen can be regarded as disabled under the ADA. Also worth noting, during the public meeting EEOC intern Anupa Iyer shared a particularly compelling story about her experience in the work force following her battle with mental illness.

The EEOC posted a video of the meeting online. I have to say that I am quite impressed with the way the EEOC has embraced social media – from what I recall, the videos of the meetings were not posted online in the past. The next Commission meeting has not yet been scheduled. Maybe by then the EEOC will have a live Twitter feed going during the meeting.

** Update: I was quoted in the April 18th issue of Business Insurance Magazine regarding the EEOC’s public meeting. The author, Judy Greenwald, also wrote a separate article regarding the challenges of psychiatric disabilities for employers which is worth a read.

About Ashley Kasarjian

Attorney at Snell and Wilmer in Phoenix, Arizona, and publisher of the blog, Employment and the Law.
This entry was posted in ADA, EEOC and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Recap of the EEOC’s Public Meeting Discussing the Employment of People with Mental Disabilities

  1. Pingback: Summary of the EEOC’s Final Regulations for the ADAAA – What Companies Should Know (Part One)

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