Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The season of the witch? The ADA and seasonal affective disorder

One thing we Clevelanders are really good at is complaining about the weather. For much of last week we approached 100 degrees, and we complained it was too hot. Yet, if it was a temperate 70, we’d complain that it’s too cool for July. And don’t even get me started about winter—too cold, too much snow, when is it going to get warm. Well, it’s been plenty warm, and the complaints keep on flowing.

Did you know that there exists a genuine psychiatric condition based on people’s weather-related moods? It’s called seasonal affective disorder, a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms as the seasons change.

Like most psychiatric conditions, seasonal affective disorder has made its way into the workplace. In Ekstrand v. School District of Somerset (7th Cir. 6/26/12), the court upheld a jury verdict on a teacher’s claim under the ADA that her employer failed to accommodate her seasonal affective disorder by refusing to transfer her to a classroom with natural light.

If an employee asks for an office with a view, do not necessarily write him or her off as a complaining, high-maintenance pain-in-the-you-know-what. If, like Ranae Ekstrand, an employee presents a physician’s note documenting a condition, take it seriously by seriously considering whether it presents that much of an imposition to find the employee some natural light during the work day. Some consideration and a small reasonable accommodation might save you a half-million dollar judgment.