Diagnoses and Legalities

If you've just been diagnosed with adult ADHD, you're probably wondering who to tell and how much to say. Many adults with ADHD are worried their employer can demote them, lower their salary, or even fire them if they find out about their disability. Others wonder if it's worth divulging their disability to receive special services and compensations. Although it comes down to a personal decision, here is some general advice.

Should I Tell My Boss?

There's no law saying you have to tell your employer you have adult ADHD. In fact, it's against the law for your employer to ask you questions about your medical or psychiatric history. It's also illegal for your employer to demote you, lower your salary, or fire you in the event he discovers you have adult ADHD.

If you feel you've been discriminated against for having adult ADHD, your best recourse is to contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( www.eeoc.gov) within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. (Note that some state or local laws provide additional time on the basis of a disability, so research the laws that apply in your area.)

The Ins and Outs of the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established by Congress in 1990 to end discrimination in the workplace and to provide equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities, including children and adults with ADHD. The ADA applies to all businesses with fifteen or more employees, including private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations, and labor-management committees.

Am I Eligible for ADA Coverage?

Although the ADA covers mental conditions and illnesses, including adult ADHD, getting a diagnosis for the condition will not automatically qualify you for protection. To do so, you must show that your condition imposes significant limitations on a major life activity or function. You must also be regarded as having a disability, have a record of having been viewed as being disabled, and be able to perform the essential job functions with or without accommodations.

In order to be covered by the ADA, you must tell your employer you have adult ADHD. If your employer doesn't know you have a disability or how it could affect your job performance, he wouldn't be able to provide services to help you do your job. This is especially true if you accepted a job and signed a written job description that described duties you knew would pose difficulties for you, such as organizing projects, turning things in on time, and working well with others.

If you qualify for the ADA, your employer is required by law to make accommodations for you unless he can prove that making these accommodations would create an undue hardship to the company in terms of expense, time, and logistics.

Accommodations could include restructuring your job duties, adjusting your schedule or hours, reassigning you to a more appropriate position, or modifying testing and training materials and policy manuals.

Am I Eligible for Social Security Benefits?

If you have adult ADHD, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or disability benefits from Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Like anyone applying for SSI, you must first receive a medical determination that will review your attention problems, medical history, and the limitations the condition puts on your ability to function and make a living.


If you were diagnosed with childhood ADHD and qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance under Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, the SSA will review your case when you turn eighteen to determine if you qualify for benefits under the adult regulations. Even if your condition has not improved, your benefits will stop if you don't meet the adult criteria.

If you can document that you haven't been able to engage in work above the monthly substantial gainful work activity limit for the past twelve months because of adult ADHD, or you anticipate you won't be able to engage in such work for twelve months, there's a chance you may be entitled to Social Security benefits.

Diagnosis for Legal Reasons

If you need a lawyer to help you sort through employment issues related to your adult ADHD, make sure you hire an attorney who specializes in helping people who have the condition.

As a general rule of thumb, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer in these scenarios:

The facts are simple and easily established, and you believe you have a clear-cut case of discrimination, wrongful firing, etc.

The results of losing your job would be catastrophic and pose severe financial hardships.

The amount of money and time you'd have to spend on litigation fees won't exceed the amount of money you believe you're due.

You've tried and failed to settle or resolve the issue outside of court.

Your claim for special assistance has been rejected.

For more information about your legal rights as an adult with ADHD and associated learning disabilities, visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities at www.ncld.org. For the name of a good adult ADHD lawyer, ask for recommendations from members of your support group or local disability organizations. You may also want to contact state and local chapters of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD; www.chadd.org).

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