Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a medical disability recognized by the medical community and the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH). OCD is characterized by obsessions (persistent upsetting thoughts) and compulsions (or rituals) that control the behavior of the person with OCD. Those suffering from OCD cannot control the constant urge to act on impulses and rituals that consume their thoughts throughout the day and night.

Obsessions are defined as persistent impulses that cause anxiety and distress to the person with OCD. If the person does not act on these recurrent thoughts and images, the urge grows, and anxiety and even depression and hysteria can result. This is not just an exaggeration of real-life worries, but rather an obsession with some aspect that is not based in reality.

Compulsions are defined by the behaviors that the person feels they must act on in response to the obsession. These behaviors are the direct response to the obsession, and they must be done in order to prevent catastrophe or to ease the urges in the person's head. Often one hears of someone suffering from OCD having a compulsion to wash their hands repeatedly throughout the day in order to be clean from the excessive amount of dirt in the world. Or they may repeat steps of daily routines such as brushing their teeth, locking the door, counting steps to and from their desk, or keeping things in pristine order.

According to the NIMH, OCD affects over 2 million American adults. OCD treatment usually requires therapy with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist and psychiatric medication. Many sufferers of OCD have found a manageable way to calm their urges or to lead relatively normal lives with treatment and therapy. However, many of the compulsions still exist, and must be accommodated in everyday life.

Federal and State Laws protect you from being discriminated against in your workplace due to your OCD. Additionally, you must be given the opportunity to negotiate reasonable accommodations for your OCD.


  • Your employer does not allow you to miss work for medical appointments
  • Your employer does not accommodate your need to take a reasonable amount of time off of work
  • Your employer will not provide reasonable on-site accommodations for your disability
  • Your employer does not allow you additional time to complete your tasks
  • Your employer harasses you for your compulsions (such as making fun of how you handle paperwork, the organization of your desk, or your need to wash your hands frequently).


To state a cause of action for disability discrimination, an employee must be disabled, regarded as disabled, or have a record of being disabled. The employee must then show that:

  • his or her disability results in physical limitations
  • that he or she can still perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodations)
  • and that the employer took some adverse action (such as not hiring, firing, or demoting the employee) on the basis of that disability.

According to both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employer may not take any adverse action against an employee because of the employee's mental disability. An adverse employment action would include discriminatory hiring, firing, or lack of accommodation. Having OCD is a mental disability, deserving of protection from discrimination, as long as the OCD limits the individual's ability to work. The employer also has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with OCD so as to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. The law will protect an employee whose employer does not provide these necessary accommodations. For example, an employee might be limited because she needs to additional time to accomplish various tasks because she has a compulsion to reorder her work as she works. This would be a limitation in her work. An employer is required to provide an employee additional time, if necessary, so long as this accommodation does not place an undue burden on the employer.

Further Information