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Reasonable Accomodations

Identifying Reasonable Accommodations

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Psychiatric Disabilities

The workforce includes many individuals with psychiatric disabilities who, with the appropriate accommodations, can be both successful and productive on the job.  Employees with psychiatric disabilities can bring unique skills and sensitivities that can add considerably to the quality and diversity of the workplace.  As with all employees, employers need to assess the qualifications and performance of workers with psychiatric disabilities on an individual basis, and accommodations need to be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration each employee's individual limitations and accommodation needs.

What are psychiatric impairments?

Psychiatric impairments, also called "mental illnesses," refer to all diagnosable mental disorders.  Mental health problems are health conditions involving changes in thinking, mood, or behavior.  When these conditions become serious enough to have a functional impact on the individual's life, they are referred to as mental illness.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision defines mental illness, in part, as clinically significant behavior or psychological patterns that occur in an individual and are associated with present distress or disability (loss of function).

Examples of psychiatric conditions that could rise to the level of being disabilities include major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and personality, dissociative, or post-traumatic stress disorders, depending on how the condition affects the individual's functioning.

How will employers know if current employees or applicants have psychiatric disabilities?

Psychiatric disabilities are usually not apparent.  Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from asking applicants if they have psychiatric disabilities before they make a job offer.  Because of this, employers are unlikely to know if an applicant or employee has a psychiatric disability unless he/she chooses to discuss it.  Whether or not to disclose is a personal decision on the part of the worker, and involves such factors as trust, comfort with others in the workplace, job security, and the perceived open-mindedness and support of the immediate supervisor.

A psychiatric disability can affect an individual's functioning in the workplace in such ways as difficulty maintaining concentration, and difficulty in focussing on multiple tasks simultaneously, particularly when there is noise and distractions.  Medications taken to control psychiatric symptoms can cause such side effects as hand tremors, excessive thirst, or blurred vision.

Accommodation solutions

Reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities must be determined on a case-by-case basis because workplaces and jobs vary, and so do people with disabilities.  And as usual, the person with the disability will generally be our best resource for identifying potential barriers and the accommodations that eliminate them.  Accommodations for individuals with psychiatric disabilities may involve changes to workplace policies, procedures or practices.  Physical changes to the workplace or extra equipment may also be effective.  In some cases, the impact of a mental illness may make it more difficult for the person to help the employer identify accommodations that would be successful.  In those cases, it may be appropriate to get additional suggestions from a mental health professional or advocate who is working with the person.  This should only be done with the person's permission, (in writing and on file), and the individual with a disability should still play a central role in selecting and approving the accommodations before they are put in place.

Some examples of accommodations that have been used successfully in employment settings for individuals who have psychiatric disabilities include:

  • permitting the use of accrued paid leave or providing additional unpaid leave for treatment or recovery;
  • schedules which incorporate flex-time;
  • part-time positions or job sharing;
  • the use of break time according to an individual's needs rather than a fixed schedule;
  • physical arrangements (such as room partitions or an enclosed office space) to reduce noise or visual distractions;
  • allowing an individual to phone  supportive friends, family members, or professionals during the work day;
  • extending additional leave to allow a worker to keep his/her job after a hospitalization;
  • Modifying a workplace policy when necessitated by an individual's disability-related limitations.  (E.g.:  allowing an individual who has difficulty concentrating due to a disability, to take detailed notes during client presentations even though company policy discourages employees from taking extensive notes during such sessions.)

Supervisors play a central role in achieving effective reasonable accommodations for their employees.  In some circumstances, they may be able to adjust their methods of supervision by, for example, communicating assignments, instructions, or training by using the medium that is most effective for a particular individual (in writing, in conversation, or by electronic mail).  Supervisors often can also provide or arrange for additional training or modified training materials.  Adjusting the level or structure of supervision to provide more detailed day-to-day guidance, feedback, or structure for an individual with a disability who experiences limitations in concentration may also be effective.

Additional resources

(This is a link)

In response to a large number of questions and concerns regarding the application of the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to individuals with psychiatric disabilities, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has developed an enforcement guidance to address the Commission's position on this topic.  Click here to see the full text of the guidance.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the US Department of Labor.  JAN's mission is to facilitate the employment and retention of workers with disabilities by providing employers, employment providers, and people with disabilities with information on job accommodations.  JAN represents the most comprehensive resource for job accommodations available.

Click here to get accommodation and resource information by disability.

The Job Accommodation Network's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) system is designed to assist users in exploring various accommodation options for people with disabilities in work settings.  These accommodation ideas are not all inclusive, however.  The SOAR system allows the user to search by disability to get information on corresponding limitations, job functions, and accommodations.

Click here to begin your accommodation resource search.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has made available a resource document entitled Businesses Materials for a Mental Health Friendly Workplace: Workplaces That Thrive.  The publication has been designed to help human resources personnel look at the benefits of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace.  The elements of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace are described, and information is provided to help businesses make a preliminary assessment of the current situation in a workplace.  A range of policies and practices that are employed in businesses across the country, and portraits of three thriving Mental Health-Friendly Workplaces across the United States are presented.  Each of these examples illustrates how mental health-friendly policies and practices look and work in real life settings.

Click here to go to the publication entitled Businesses Materials for a Mental Health Friendly Workplace: Workplaces That Thrive.



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