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Accommodating mental health disabilities in the workplace

When it comes to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, creating a workspace for an employee with physical disabilities may be the first thing that comes to mind. However, there are millions of adults in the United States who have serious mental illnesses that compromise their ability to excel in their careers without some adjustments. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 4.2 percent of the adults in America have a mental illness that is severe enough to affect functionality.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network lists many ways that an employer may address the needs of these workers with psychiatric health issues so that they have the means to perform their job duties. These adjustments should be made to suit the employee’s specific situation, and when the employer is evaluating needs, the employee may provide valuable input.

To assist with fatigue, stress and concentration, an employer may need to create a flexible schedule, or allow the employee to work from home. Bringing a support animal to the workplace may be helpful in dealing with stress. Or, an employee may need a more soothing environment, which could be created by reducing clutter, eliminating noise or lighting distractions, for example.

If an employee’s mental disability causes problems with organization, time management or memory, an employer may be able to help by conveying some interactions in writing, such as task lists, instructions, training or meeting minutes. Assigning a mentor may be helpful in setting and meeting daily or weekly goals, or letting the employee know when his or her behavior is not professional.

The primary focus of any of these adjustments is to get around the limitations the employee’s condition creates so that he or she can be a benefit to the company.

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