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The AR Group

Social Anxiety as a Disability Requiring Accommodation?

The Fourth Circuit, in the case of?Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, recently agreed with the EEOC that social anxiety disorder may be a disability for ADA purposes as it pertains to the ability to interact with others and thus a major life activity.

Background:

Christina Jacobs worked as an office assistant at the Administrative Office of the Courts (?AOC?) before being promoted to deputy clerk. She was later assigned to assist customers at the front counter, a job usually assigned to the most junior deputy clerks. In that role, while working at the front counter, she began to experience extreme stress and panic attacks; all symptoms of her previously diagnosed social anxiety disorder. She explained her condition and symptoms to her supervisor, discussing her history with the disability. Her supervisor suggested she seek treatment and relayed the conversation to her own supervisor, who made notes for Jacobs? personnel file. Jacobs did seek treatment, but then sent an email to her three supervisors that once again disclosed her disability and asked for an accommodation. Jacobs was terminated three weeks later for allegedly poor performance and filed a charge with the EEOC claiming the firing was in retaliation for the accommodation request.

Implications:

While the implications of this recent Circuit Court ruling might seem to be significant, for practical purposes, the important takeaway is that reasonable accommodation requests should never be taken lightly and all decisions that adversely affect employees should come with ample documentation. In this case, the employer had a number of clerk positions that it could have fairly easily placed the plaintiff into that did not require customer interaction or servicing. Moreover, although the employer terminated on the basis of poor performance, it had no documentation to support its claim. Of course, employers would be wise to also tend to the fundamental holding that social anxiety is a disorder for which an accommodation may be requested and thus responded to, thoughtfully.

SMART Tip: Employers with customer facing employees would be wise to ensure that their job descriptions are updated to accurately reflect the ?essential functions of the job? so that if an accommodation request is made, a response is more readily managed.