Human Resources News & Insights

First case of Internet addiction: The fallout for HR and the ADA

We may have just been introduced to the next disability du jour that could have employees asking for accommodations. 

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act and the American Psychiatric Association’s addition of “Internet Use Disorder” to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, HR pros have been waiting for Internet addiction to become a reality.

Now we have the first concrete example.

A serviceman for the Navy checked himself into the institution’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Program for alcoholism — and while he was there, he was also treated for a Google Glass addiction, according to a study that was described in a CNN article.

Connected for up to 18 hours a day

Google Glass is a wearable tech device with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that essentially gives users info in a smartphone-like hands-free format.

According to the study, the man had been using his Google Glass for up to 18 hours a day in the two months prior to his admission to the Navy’s program. The man removed it only to sleep and bathe, and reported feeling more confident in social situations while wearing it.

If he was prevented from wearing the Google Glass at work, the man’s doctors say, “he would become extremely irritable and argumentative.”

In addition, the doctors stated, “the patient repeatedly tapped his right temple with his index finger, … an involuntary mimic of the motion regularly used to switch on the heads-up display on his Google Glass.”

2 key takeaways

So now HR pros may be wondering what the fallout is — and if they must accommodate every request that’s related to Internet addiction.

While this example of Internet addiction doesn’t stem from any legal action against an employer, it does raise a number of important Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-related legal issues for HR pros.

Employment attorney Jon Hyman, the author of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, covered two things employers should take away from this story:

  1. If Internet addiction becomes more prevalent, more employers will likely have to enter into the interactive process and consider providing reasonable accommodations for this condition. Remember, courts have said employers should not look too deeply into whether a medical condition qualifies as an ADA-protected disability (because it probably does). Instead, they should focus on whether a reasonable accommodation exists to help the employee perform his or her essential job functions — a.k.a., enter the interactive process.
  2. Overly strict non-work-related Internet use policies may get you in trouble with the ADA. Hyman compares these policies to the fixed or capped-leave policies that have been coming back to haunt employers recently. While there’s nothing wrong with employers placing reasonable limits on workplace computer use, adopting hard-line policies capping usage could be viewed by courts as tantamount to slamming the door on the interactive process.

Info: A previous version of this article appeared on our sister website HR Benefits Alert.

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