There are federal protections in place for people with cognitive disabilities in the workplace, just as there are for people with physical disabilities.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission amended the Americans with Disabilities Act to include protection for people with intellectual disabilities. This document addresses several examples, including those listed below, of ways employers may discriminate against these individuals.
Not providing accommodations
Employers must meet any reasonable request for accommodations. Denial is permissible if the request requires significant financial investment from the employer or is too difficult. However, accommodations for cognitive disabilities are rarely expensive.
Employers cannot question employees’ disabilities. This includes references to school records that indicate an intellectual impairment or history of courses for students with special needs. However, employers may ask job qualifying questions that assess employees’ abilities in reading, writing and similar skills.
Denying necessary leave
While the ADA does not specifically mandate that employers must approve requests for leave, it does require the employer to make necessary accommodations, and providing leave often falls under the umbrella of such accommodations.
Disclosing medical information
Employers cannot disclose private medical information to others, including co-workers. However, employers can proactively address obvious differences in treatment among staff by educating everyone. They may avoid invasive questions by training the entire staff on EEOC requirements for disabled persons using required courses, handouts or staff meetings.
Essentially, employees with intellectual disabilities have a right to work without fear of harassment or retaliation, and federal law provides specific instructions to ensure they receive fair treatment.