Thursday, January 10, 2013

Internet-Use Disorder: The Newest Disability?

The DSM-5, the official psychiatrist’s diagnostic manual, has accepted Internet Use Disorder for inclusion, albeit in a section devoted to conditions that require further research.

This “disease” has its roots in a 1995 satirical hoax by Dr. Ivan Goldberg. Despite its dubious origins, over the past decade its acceptance as a legitimate clinical disorder has grown, culminating in its upcoming inclusion in the DSM-IV.

What does this mean for your workplace? If Internet addiction is a psychiatric disorder, then employees who suffer from it may be protected by the ADA. This development has potentially significant implications for your workplace.

  • Do you have employees who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time online? Is it affecting their performance and inhibiting their ability to perform the essential functions of their jobs? If so, might you have to engage those employees in the interactive process to determine if there exists a reasonable accommodation that enables them to perform those essential functions? For example, could you deny computer access to employees who do not need to use a computer for their jobs, and require that such employees leave their cell phones outside the work area? 
  • Do you have a policy that prohibits non-work-related Internet use? If so, such a policy might run afoul of the ADA, just like hard-capped leave absence of policies. It’s not that employers cannot place reasonable limits on workplace computer use. By instituting a ban, however, employers are avoiding their obligations to engage in the interactive process, thereby violating the ADA.

The inclusion of Internet-Use Disorder in the DSM-IV raises many more questions than answers for employers. Businesses need to be aware of the possibility that a cyber-surfing employee will raise this issue, and must prepare to address this problem a way that will not walk the employer into the trap of a costly ADA lawsuit.

This post originally appeared on The Legal Workplace Blog.