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Accommodating mental illness in the workplace


Organizations have made great progress to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities, but do HR professionals have the skills and knowledge to address the concerns of workers with mental impairments?

Employees with mental illness may...

Several high-profile suicides in recent months have brought renewed attention to the issue of mental health. Greenlees says her organization is handling more calls from organizations looking for advice on how to comply with rules governing mental health and employment. For example, someone who experiences periodic panic attacks may be permitted to have a support animal or take additional breaks when necessary.

Accommodating mental illness in the workplace person with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from a car accident may be allowed to work an earlier schedule to avoid driving home in the dark. Employers should not assume these accommodations would create a burden to the organization, Greenlees said.

A worker with mental illness is also covered under the Family Medical Leave Act FMLAwhich allows workers to take unpaid leave and keep their job if they are receiving treatment. In many cases, allowing for a short leave of absence is all that is required —a worker takes time off and returns without further issues.

But often, mental health impairments are long-term or even permanent, requiring the employer to take special steps. Workers, meanwhile, may be reluctant to seek help for fear of being stigmatized for their mental illness.

Finding the right accommodation for someone with a mental health challenge is not as simple. What are some ideas the employee has? Give it a try. Many HR professionals turn to the Job Accommodation Network JANwhich offers comprehensive information on disabilities and job accommodations, including those for people with mental illness.

JAN offers a series of questions employers should ask when formulating an accommodations plan. In addition, it offers suggested accommodations for workers dealing with challenges related to concentration, memory, time management, organization, attendance, co-worker interaction, stress, fatigue, panic attacks and sleep disturbances. On its website, JAN notes that there is Accommodating mental illness in the workplace one-size-fits all approach to accommodating workers with mental illness.

Workers are not required to reveal a mental illness to their boss, though it is advised that they seek an accommodation if they are having trouble doing their job effectively. Greenlees says workers with mental illness seek out an accommodation themselves about half the time.

The rest of the time, the need for an accommodation becomes obvious when a supervisor approaches a worker about their performance.