The Cornell Just-in-Time Toolkit for Managers

Tips, checklists, and resources to help managers lead a disability inclusive workforce.

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An employee might have a psychiatric disability or addiction: Thinking it through

Many individuals with disabilities experience assumptions about their skills and talents due to their disabilities.  There are some disabilities, however, where negative messaging about disability is particularly common.  This includes both psychiatric disabilities and addiction. The stigma around these disabilities is due in part to fear that is often supported in messages from the media.  As a result of the common misunderstanding about these disabilities, we wanted to take time to clear up some of these misperceptions here. 

Separate fact from fiction

  • Psychiatric disabilities are one of the leading types of disabilities covered under the ADA in the workplace.
  • A psychiatric disability can affect any person at any time.
  • Psychiatric disabilities are not the result of weakness, character flaws or poor parenting.
  • Individuals with a psychiatric disability do not pose a danger to others at work.
  • Applicants or employees do not have to disclose a psychiatric disability unless they are requesting a disability accommodation.

Resources at Cornell

  • For help in dealing with psychiatric disability or addiction issues at Cornell contact Medical Leaves Administration at 607.255.1177 or visit Disability Accommodations.

About addiction

  • Addiction is a highly stigmatized disability. Addiction becomes a disability when it substantially limits the daily life activities of the person experiencing it.

When a manager suspects that an addiction impacts performance

  • Employees who are currently using illegal drugs can be terminated according to a fairly and uniformly applied policy.
  • An employee with addiction issues whose conduct does not warrant termination can request accommodations.
  • Managers may not discriminate against an employee just because of a history of using illegal drugs.

Do employees with a history of psychiatric disability pose a danger to others?

  • The fact that an employee has a history of a psychiatric disability diagnoses does not in itself constitute a danger or direct threat.
  • If a manager has a reasonable belief that an employee with a psychiatric disability could pose a danger, the manager can take action to alleviate that threat. 

When a manager suspects a psychiatric disability issue impacts performance

  • An employee who violates a conduct or performance policy who has not told the manager of a need for an accommodation can be given feedback, reprimanded or terminated according to that policy.
  • An employee who discloses a psychiatric disability and requests an accommodation can still be held accountable for their work performance prior to the disclosure. But the effort to find a reasonable accommodation should now be put into motion and the employee’s performance should be reviewed after an accommodation has been put into place.
  • Employees who first respond to a termination action by disclosing a psychiatric disability can still be terminated if their misconduct prior to disclosing warrants termination according to a uniformly and fairly applied policy.

About making inquiries 

  • As a rule, managers should not ask an employee directly if they have a psychiatric disability or addiction.
  • Make all employees aware of the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) and their rights to disability accommodation for psychiatric, addiction, and other disabilities. To contact the FSAP program at Cornell, call 607.255.COPE or visit
  • Hold a private conversation with any employee who has a performance problem and listen to their “take” on the cause of the problem. If the employee then discloses a psychiatric disability or addiction, begin the accommodation process by contacting Cornell’s Medical Leave Administration office.
  • The Medical Leaves Administration can require medical documentation to assist them in finding an effective accommodation, but managers should not collect medical information from employees.
  • Keep all performance and accommodation discussions private.
  • Never try to monitor the employee’s medication.

Thinking through possible accommodations for employees with psychiatric disability

  • Listen to the employee—what do they believe would help them perform the essential functions of their job.
  • Is working at home an option?
  • Use sound or space barriers to reduce stress.
  • Change a schedule.
  • Allow more frequent reminders of work tasks.
  • For more information on accommodations for individuals with psychiatric disability, go to

Thinking through possible accommodations for employees with addiction

  • Ask the employee what they need to be effective at their job
  • Utilize Cornell FSAP resources