Tales of the Red Tape #32: Civil Rights for Bashful Bladders
Diane Katz /
There are several colloquialisms for “paruresis” (par-YOU-ree-sis), one of the newer additions to the growing list of ailments supposedly protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): “pee panic,” “stage fright,” and “urophobia,” among them.
No matter one’s term of preference, they all refer to a difficulty or inability to urinate in the presence of others, be it at home or in a public restroom, if observed or in proximity. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) reading of the ADA, employers must make reasonable accommodations for any worker so afflicted or face legal action by the agency.
Classified as a “social anxiety disorder” by the psychiatric set, the condition has gained prominence as employers increasingly require drug testing. Coincidentally (or not), some experts say drug use—opiates, in particular—makes urination particularly difficult.
The International Paruresis Association (IPA) has lobbied for eight years for the government to require employers, prisons, the military, and schools to offer a testing method that does not require a urine sample. Alas, the effort has come up dry (so to speak).
Under ADA protection, renal retentives also may demand private accommodations in the workplace. Companies would have to comply unless they convince the potty police at the EEOC that doing so would constitute a business “hardship,” or they are willing to risk a court fight over this expansive application of the ADA.
And yet paruresis is usually treatable; studies document that cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or prescription medication can help the majority of sufferers. This begs the question of why employers should have to spring for additional drug tests and private privies if the “disability” can be remedied.
It’s largely the fault of Congress, naturally. The 1990 amendments to the ADA eased the standards for establishing a protected impairment. Predictably, the list of disabilities has grown much longer and with it an entirely new set of civil rights, including rights for timid tinklers. It’s impossible to imagine that this is what the Founders had in mind for the nation.