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Part 7: Psychological Assessment— Legal Diagnosis as well as Psychological Diagnosis

Brent, you point out correctly that not all problems with people getting along require some kind of psychological diagnosis. Some just relate to spiritual or emotional maturity, and may need pastoral counseling, coaching, or even just plain employment discipline. Some problems with people getting along trigger legal issues, and some do not.

A personnel problem becomes a legal issue primarily when there is a possibility of discrimination. For instance, that could be gender discrimination based on refusal to accept a more “emotional” or “relational” type of communication. It could be disability discrimination based on refusal to accommodate a disability. Or there could be an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim. For instance, ordering someone to get a psychological evaluation can raise ADA concerns. It depends on whether there seems to be a disability. Even if there is, getting help may be a job-related necessity, depending on the job requirements and the field.

If you believe there is no disability involved, the issues should be documented in terms of behavior, coaching or other intervention, and disciplinary steps. If there appears to be a disability involved, you must work through the accommodation process, and see if there is in fact a way to accommodate the person (and sometimes there is not).

All of this is more of a concern for “regular” employees, and less of a concern for employees who fit a “ministerial” category. Because religious organizations have almost unlimited freedom to choose (and unchoose) their ministers, the ministerial exception means that employment decisions and requirements about ministerial personnel are not likely to be scrutinized by the courts. Your job descriptions become important in that context as well.

We’ve discussed a lot of moving pieces in these posts. Many of these problems will need counsel from a psychological and an attorney, but at least this should flag some of the issues for our readers.

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More articles in this series: Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

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