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New diagnostic manual for mental disorders could lead to lawsuits

There is a growing concern among employers across the nation this month after the recent release of the long-awaited American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. The new revised edition expands definitions on many existing conditions while categorizing previously unknown ones as well. But according to some at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this update on mental disorders could leave a majority of employers open to disability discrimination lawsuits.

As many of our readers know from past blog posts, employers are required by federal law to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who had disabilities in the workplace. In most cases, this isn't an issue; but in the last five years, with the addition of new disabilities, many employers have found themselves in contentious lawsuits alleging discrimination because accommodations could not be provided. This is where the brunt of the problems will lie, explains one legal expert.

As the legal expert explains, it's one thing to ask your employer for an adjusted schedule because of medications that are being taken, but another thing for employee to say that they cannot communicate effectively with their coworkers. Now with the addition of such conditions as social communication disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, legal experts from private law firms to the EEOC are urging employers to consider whether their business practices could be viewed as discriminatory.

Some critics argue that just because a previously unknown condition is discovered does not mean that discrimination has occurred. While this may be true, it's important to point out that if employers are not sensitive to the changes in opinion in the medical community, they could be leaving themselves open to challenging litigation in the future.

Source: The Washington Times, "Discrimination suits for disabilities could rise with new list of psychiatric disorders," Luke Rosiak, May 19, 2013

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