Is Anxiety Considered a Disability at Work?

Stressed worker with her head in her hands at her office desk experiencing anxiety
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A certain amount of stress and anxiety is normal and even healthy at work. But when it's persistent and excessive, it can indicate an anxiety disorder that can interfere with your ability to work. Here's what to do about it and when your condition is considered a disability with federal protections.

Key Takeaways

  • If anxiety is severely restricting a life function, it may be considered a disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • You can request accommodations such as a flexible schedule, support animal, or special rest area to help manage your anxiety.
  • Your employer doesn't have to give you exactly what you want but must engage with you to try to come up with a solution.

Understanding Anxiety

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect 18% of adults in the United States every year, and they are the most common mental health disorders. Genetics, life events, changes in brain chemistry, and other stressors may cause the development of an anxiety disorder.

The National Institute of Mental Health breaks the disorder down into generalized anxiety order (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobia-related disorders depending on the severity, duration, and frequency of symptoms. The ADAA further adds obsessive-compulsive disorders, depressive disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Symptoms of the disease are wide-ranging and depend on the individual and the severity. They include restlessness, fatigue, concentration issues, irritability, sleeplessness, pounding or rushing heartbeat, shaking, and shortness of breath. Those in the grip of an event can feel extreme worry, out of control, and the sense of impending doom.

Claiming a Disability

If you think your anxiety is affecting your work on a regular basis, it's helpful to think about whether it's legally considered a disability and therefore you should receive certain kinds of protections and accommodations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. The ADA gives a definition of disability as follows:

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability.

It doesn’t list specific conditions that qualify people for protection. However, the act does identify medical conditions that would easily be considered a disability under this definition.

It defines anxiety as a disorder when it can be shown to substantially restrict your major life activity or a major bodily function. Even if you've usually got your anxiety under control through treatment and medication, it will qualify as a disability under the ADA if it is disabling when it is active.

So if you feel a bit anxious about meeting new people but can take a deep breath and get through the process, that wouldn’t qualify for ADA protection. However, a person who feels an overwhelming panic could qualify. There isn’t a box that you can check off.

Evaluating Anxiety as a Disability

If you ask for accommodation under the ADA, you will may be asked to fill out a medical information form. This form may require you to visit your doctor and have them complete the necessary information.

In addition to federal laws, many states have laws that regulate the medical information that an employee is required to give their employer. Make sure that you check with your human resources department about all the paperwork you need to fill out.

If your doctor determines that you have a disability, they may list areas where you could benefit from accommodations. You can mull these accommodations over before asking your employer for them.

Reasonable Accommodations

Accommodations that might be considered reasonable for anxiety disorder include remote work, a support animal, a modified schedule, or a rest area. They will need to be considered "reasonable" for the type of job you do.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor:

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process. These modifications enable an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity not only to get a job, but successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities.

For example, if a receptionist says that, due to anxiety, they can’t sit near the door, that request may be considered unreasonable. As a key job duty for the receptionist is to greet people when they walk in the doors. But, if an accountant makes the same request, it could well be reasonable accommodation as their workplace is not dependent on proximity to the entryway.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should I request accommodation for anxiety disorder in writing?

You don't have to, but it's a good idea. That way you have documentation of your request, and you can make sure that it's clearly communicated to the HR manager and anyone else they pass the request on to.

Does my employer have to give me what I ask for to help with my anxiety?

They don't have to give you the precise accommodation you ask for, but your employer has to engage in a "flexible interactive process" with you to try to come up with a solution. Your request should be processed in a timely manner. If you have followed up with your manager or HR and you're still not getting what you need, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer.

Article Sources

  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "What is Anxiety and Depression?"

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. "Anxiety Disorders."

  3. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. "Anxiety Disorders - Facts & Statistics."

  4. ADA National Network. "What Is the Definition of Disability Under the ADA?"

  5. Phillips & Associates. "What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Anxiety?"

  6. U.S. Department of Labor. "Accommodations."