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Employment Blog

Attention Deficit Disorder - Disability?

I have always been concerned that attention deficit disorder would become a commonplace claim of a disability by employees, especially employees who are subject to disciplinary action. A recent decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gives employers some hope that attention deficit disorder (ADHD) will not automatically be considered a disability.

In this decision, a police officer for a community in Oregon had several conflicts with his co-workers and was terminated for his behavior. The police officer alleged that he was terminated because of a disability, being his previous diagnosis of ADHD. Several physicians said the police officer was able to work and perform his duties without limitation or restriction. A jury found the city discriminated against the employee by terminating the employee for his inappropriate interactions and conflict with co-workers.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the jury decision and made two important rulings. First, the Court held there was no evidence of substantial limitation in the major life activity of working because the evidence showed the police officer was successful in performing his duties and in fact, had been promoted to a sergeant position. There was evidence he had difficulty working with others in the workplace, but that did not rise to the level of a substantial limitation on his ability to work. The Court also found that interacting with others was a major life activity but a mere inability to get along with others did not rise to the level of interacting with others and constituting a major life activity. The evidence showed the police officer was able to engage in normal social interactions and therefore he was not considered disabled and unable to engage in the major life activity of interacting with others. In other words, the individual often acted like a "jerk," but that behavior did not rise to a level of being protected as a major life activity.

This decision is not an all-encompassing answer to the question of whether attention deficit disorder will be considered a disability. An analysis will be required on each individual and how the disorder impacts the ability of the individual to be able to perform their duties in the workplace. The decision does direct employers to do a more thorough analysis of the work difficulties experienced by this type of employee before concluding that a disability exists for which an accommodation must be made.