Americans with Disabilities Act covers ‘bashful bladder syndrome,’ could cost employers billions

Taylor Bigler Entertainment Editor
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It could cost U.S. employers between $2 billion and $4 billion to comply with an obscure Americans with Disabilities Act regulation meant to protect workers who are gun-shy in public restrooms.

According to an informal discussion letter the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued in August 2011, “paruresis” — more commonly known as “shy bladder syndrome” — qualifies as a disability under the amended Americans with Disabilities Act.

The International Paruresis Association defines the odd affliction as the “inability to urinate with others present.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the gold-standard of psychiatrists, categorizes it as a social phobia that affects roughly seven percent of the population — approximately 17 million Americans.

The Association alleges that thousands of people who are afflicted by paruresis have been unfairly fired because of their inability to urinate in a public restroom during random drug screening tests.

And while the EEOC suggests that providing alternative drug-testing methods is one way to accommodate these sufferers, the next frontier could be the claim that they are entitled to pee in privacy during the normal course of daily work.

If every employer large enough to be subject to the ADA were to hedge against future lawsuits by adding segregated restrooms for timid tinklers, the cost would exceed the gross domestic product of many small nations.

Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to protect people with severe handicaps such as blindness, deafness or paralysis. It was updated by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA) in 2009 to accommodate far more disabilities and now also covers a plethora of other afflictions — including bashful bladder syndrome.

In an August 12, 2011 response to a constituent’s inquiry, the EEOC wrote that although the fear of peeing in a public restroom is not specifically mentioned in the act, people with paruresis should find it easier than ever to prove their syndrome qualifies for ADAAA coverage as a legitimate disability.

“The ADAAA and its implementing regulations make this showing much easier,” the letter reads, “by including bladder and brain functions as major life activities, lowering the standard for establishing that an impairment ‘substantially limits’ a major life activity, and focusing the determination of whether an individual is ‘regarded as’ having a disability on how the individual has been treated because of an impairment.”

If the EEOC concludes that an employer has discriminated against someone covered under the ADAAA, employers could suffer serious financial consequences. The commission did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment on how many businesses would be affected by the obscure regulation, but said the ADAAA covers businesses with 15 employees or more — in cases of age-related discrimination, the minimum number would be 20 — as well as labor unions and employment agencies.

In 2008, there were 655,587 companies that had 20 or more employees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. An estimate on suggested that converting floor space into a small bathroom in 2009 cost between $3,000 and $6,000.

Failure to comply with EEOC regulations could open businesses up to potential lawsuits from shy leakers because, according to the commission, employers must provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. The EEOC reports that the median cost of complying with an ADAAA-covered disability is just $240  — substantially less than the thousands of dollars it could cost to accommodate a social phobia by building a new bathroom.

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Taylor Bigler