A MESSAGE FROM THE CEO: I’M STRESSED OUT, BUT DOES THE ADA CARE?
A Message From the CEO: I’m Stressed Out, But Does the ADA Care?
By: Thoran Towler
Who here gets stressed at work? Yeah, that’s everyone. Hopefully the stressful periods are few and far between. But what happens if an employee comes to you and says, “I’m stressed at this job and you need to accommodate me under the Americans with Disabilities Act”? Unless you have a magic switch that can turn stress off, you would likely look into whether dealing with stress is an essential function of the position. Luckily, recent case decisions have addressed the issue of stress in the workplace.
It’s pretty obvious that ability to handle workplace stress and get along with others will be required to perform many jobs. Although an argument can certainly be made that this is not technically a “function,” courts have routinely held that being professional, handling stress, and getting along with others are essential functions of the job.
For example, in Mayo v. PCC Structurals, Inc., 795 F.3d 941 (9th Cir. 2015), the court stated that an “essential function of almost every job is the ability to appropriately handle stress and interact with others.” In this case, the court held that the employee, a welder, was not qualified where his major depressive disorder led him “to threaten to kill his co-workers in chilling detail and on multiple occasions.” In Walz v. Ameriprise Financial, Inc., 779 F.3d 842 (8th Cir. 2015), the court held that the “ability to work well with others” was an essential function of an Analyst’s job, where the job required working as part of a team. In this case, where the employee’s bipolar affective disorder caused her “to interrupt meetings, disturb her coworkers, disrespect her supervisor” and act erratically, aggressively, and rudely, she was not qualified for her job. Likewise, in Dewitt v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 843 (10th Cir. 2017), the court held that requiring a customer service representative to treat customers in a professional, courteous manner and handle stress is job-related and consistent with business necessity (therefore, the function is essential).
So, if you do have a magic switch to turn off stress, call me and let me know where I can get one. If you don’t have a magic switch, take comfort in knowing that every job includes stress. Moreover, courts realize that stress occurs in any job and have found that it’s just a part of our work lives. I don’t know about you, but I sure feel better knowing that.