skip to content
On-the-Job Stress, Nervousness, and Anxiety – Get Ready to Talk Accommodation

On-the-Job Stress, Nervousness, and Anxiety – Get Ready to Talk Accommodation

The Inside Perspective
(March 23, 2015)

What should an employer do when an employee asks for an accommodation due to stress, nervousness, or panic attacks triggered by interactions with co-workers or the public? What if that employee's job is customer service? New authority from the federal courts counsels employers to tread lightly.

This month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals shed more light on the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as amended. Joining the viewpoint of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other courts around the country, the Court held that (a) interacting with others is a major life activity, and (b) an employer therefore must consider accommodating employees who claim to be substantially limited in their ability to do so. The Court explained, "[f]ew activities are more central to the human condition than interacting with others," and "[a] person need not live as a hermit in order to be 'substantially limited' in interacting with others."

TIP: When a request for a different job assignment is coupled with complaints of work-related stress, make sure you have all the information you need about an employee’s condition and job needs before taking any employment action.

The discharged employee in Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts allegedly suffered from a social anxiety disorder. Her job initially involved administrative filing, but she was later moved to a customer service position, which required face-to-face interaction with the public. She claimed to experience "extreme stress, nervousness, and panic attacks" in her new position and requested an accommodation (i.e., to work fewer days in customer service and more days performing administrative tasks). Her employer discharged her three weeks after she made this request and cited undocumented performance issues as the basis.

The trial court dismissed this case on the theory that the employee was not disabled and the employer therefore had no duty to accommodate. The Court of Appeals, however, has now overturned that dismissal and the case will go to trial. Regardless of the trial outcome, the case reminds us that on-the-job stress, nervousness, and anxiety in some instances may qualify as a disability under the ADA and trigger an employer's duty to discuss accommodation requests.

Alexander L. Maultsby
T (336) 378-5331
F (336) 378-5400
Associated Attorneys

Each of our lawyer's e-mail address is provided with his or her biography. If you are not a current client of our firm, you should not e-mail our lawyers with any confidential information or any information about a specific legal matter, given that our firm may presently represent persons or companies who have interests that are adverse to you. If you are not a current client and you e-mail any lawyer in our firm, you do so without any expectation of confidentiality. We will not establish a professional relationship with you via e-mail. Instead, you should contact our firm by telephone so that we can determine whether we are in a position to consult with you about any legal matters before you share any confidential or sensitive information with us.