DSM-5: What it Means and Why Employers Need to Pay Attention

The American Psychiatric Association published a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka “DSM-5”) in May 2013, which serves as guidelines to diagnose mental disorders.

The 2013 DSM-5 identifies a myriad of new mental diagnoses, including binge eating, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and “mild neurocognitive disorder,” which rather vaguely refers to a person who may struggle a bit to learn, remain attentive, or remember things, but does not have any other mental disorder and is able to live without assistance.

So how does DSM-5 affect businesses and, more specifically, employers?  Right now, it does not. But it may soon.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the ADA Amendments Act prevent employers from discriminating against employees because of the employee’s disability and require the employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability. While DSM-5 does not directly affect the laws that comprise the ADA, it is anticipated that courts will use the expansive diagnoses identified in DSM-5 to broaden the definition of “disability” under the ADA and the ADA Amendments Act, although it will probably take several cases before it is clear how DSM-5 will affect the ADA and the ADA Amendments Act. The inevitable result will most likely be be an increase in lawsuits because of an employer’s failure to accommodate an employee’s disability.

Practically, this means that employers need to make sure that they have written guidelines and policies identifying how to apply for and accommodate employee’s requests for accommodation. Employers also need to make sure the employees handling the applications and accommodations and properly trained on how to do so.

For more information about the DSM-5 and its diagnoses, you can read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders yourself at http://www.dsm5.org.  For assistance in protecting your business and ensuring that your employment policies comply with the law, talk to an employment lawyer at Briskin, Cross and Sanford.

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