Are sleep disorders disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability thateach person must meet (EEOC, 1992).  Therefore, some people with sleep disorders will have a disability under the ADA and some will not. 

A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment (EEOC, 1992). 

Accommodating Employees with Sleep Disorders 

People with sleep disorders may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them.  Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals.  Be aware that not all people with sleep disorders will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations.  The following is only a sample of the possibilities available.  Many other accommodation solutions may exist.

Some of the questions to consider

1.What limitations is the employee with a sleep disorder experiencing?
2.How do these limitations affect the employee and the employees job performance?
3.What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
4.What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine 
   possible accommodations?
5.Has the employee with the sleep disorder been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
6.Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee with a sleep disorder to evaluate the effectiveness of 
   the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
7.Do supervisory personnel and employees need training regarding sleep disorders?

Accommodation Ideas

Daytime Sleepiness:

Provide a device such as a Doze Alert or other alarms to keep the employee alert 
Reschedule for longer or shorter, more frequent breaks 
Provide a shift change for when the employee is most alert 

Maintaining Concentration:

Provide space enclosures or a private work area or office 
Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting 
Reduce clutter in the employee's work environment 
Plan for uninterrupted work time 
Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps 
Restructure job to include only essential functions 
Allow the employee to listen to music or white noise with a headset 

Memory Deficits:

Post instructions with frequently used equipment 
Allow the employee to tape record verbal instruction or meetings 
Provide written checklists 
Allow additional training time 
Provide written as well as verbal instructions 
Use notebooks, calendars, or sticky notes to record information for easy retrieval 

Attendance Issues:

Provide a flexible start time and/or end time 
Allow the employee to work from home 
Provide a part time work schedule 
Provide a shift change 

Decreased Stamina:

Provide a flexible schedule 
Allow longer or more frequent work breaks 
Provide additional time to learn new responsibilities 
Provide backup coverage for when the employee needs to take breaks 
Restructure job to include only essential functions 

Some of Situations and Solutions

A financial analyst with sleep apnea often fell asleep while working at her computer.  The employer provided her with a small device called a Doze Alert that fits in her ear and sounds whenever her head starts to drop forward as she falls asleep.

A customer service representative with hypersomnia had difficulty waking up for his morning schedule, which resulted in him being late for his shift.  The employer accommodated him by moving him to the afternoon shift.

A dispatcher with shift work sleep disorder worked rotating shifts that caused his sleep disorder to be exacerbated. The employer changed the rotating shift schedule for all employees to shifts that were assigned by seniority.  

A clerical employee with insomnia had a hard time maintaining concentration on the job and his stamina was often poor because of inadequate sleep.  This employee was allowed frequent breaks to help improve his stamina. 

An accountant with restless leg syndrome was often 10-15 minutes late for work every day due to amount and quality of sleep.  The employer provided this employee with a half an hour flexible start time.  Depending on when the employee arrived, the time was made up either in a break or at the end of the day.

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Basner, R.C. (2004). Shift-work sleep disorder  The glass is more than half Empty. The New England Journal or Medicine, 353(5).  Retrieved November 11, 2005, from http://content.nejm.org
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (1992). A technical assistance manual on the employment provisions (title I) of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Retrieved September 5, 2008, from http://www.jan.wvu.edu/links/ADAtam1.html
Haran, C. (2005).  Iron works: A cause of restless leg syndrome. Retrieved November 4, 2005, from http://www.abcnews.go.com
National Institutes of Health. (2003). What is sleep apnea? Retrieved January 11, 2005, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
National Womens Health Information Center. (n.d.)  Frequently asked questions about insomnia. Retrieved December 12, 2005, from http://www.4women.gov
Neurology Channel. (2005). Sleep Disorders. Retrieved January 4, 2006, from http://neurologychannel.com

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