Qualifying for a Disability at Work

Filed Under: ADHD and the Law, ADHD Accommodations, 504s, IEPs

Q:

"I was just given a warning at work. The memo cited many problems that are rooted in my ADD — missing deadlines, making careless errors, and so on. I’ve worked at this job for years, and the news is devastating. What are my legal rights?"

A:

Employees whose ADHD is severe enough to qualify as a disability, and who disclose their disorder, are protected from workplace discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

However, many employees report being fired after disclosing their AD/HD. With this in mind, you might consider replying to the warning with a pleasant letter (a letter is preferable to a conversation because it creates a paper trail) along these lines: “Thank you for bringing these problem areas to my attention. I’ve given your comments a lot of thought, and I have some suggestions that should help. First, my desk is in a high-traffic area. Dealing with the constant stream of interruptions makes it hard to finish work on time. I’d be more productive if I could work in a quieter space….”

Address each of the problems with similar suggestions — rather than requesting “accommodation for a disability.” If your employer is not receptive, seek legal counsel.


If you’d like to pursue “reasonable accommodations” under the ADA and your state’s laws, you’ll have to disclose your disability. Most disability rights laws encourage a dialogue between the employer and employee, so be prepared for an ongoing conversation.

Work with your doctor or therapist beforehand to ensure that you’re comfortable describing AD/HD and how it affects you. Be sure you have proper documentation, such as a note from your physician. Request specific accommodations, emphasizing that they’ll increase your productivity.

To ensure that your employer maintains your privacy, mention politely but firmly that you understand that this information will remain confidential. If your employer’s generally a blabbermouth, this will remind her that the topic is off-limits.

Founder of Transition Strategies, LLC, an employment law firm in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

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