HR Answers: Mental Health Accommodations 

December 2017: Vol 40 No 12
Theresa Witham
What are employees’ and employers’ rights under the ADA?

stressed man at work holds his headHow can employers address mental health at work and help employees?

A great place to start is making sure you—and your CU’s supervisors—are up-to-date on the Americans With Disabilities Act and employees’ rights to request reasonable accommodations for mental health issues. The Department of Labor suggests a few accommodations to consider:

  • telecommuting;
  • scheduling flexibility, including part-time work hours, job sharing, adjustments in the start or end of work hours, compensation time and/or "make up" of missed time;
  • allowing the use of sick leave for mental health reasons, flexible use of vacation time, additional unpaid or administrative leave for treatment or recovery, leaves of absence and/or use of occasional leave for therapy and other related appointments; 
  • scheduling breaks according to individual needs rather than a fixed schedule; allowing more frequent breaks and/or greater flexibility in scheduling breaks; providing backup coverage during breaks; and 
  • allowing telephone breaks during work hours to call professionals and others needed for support.

Conditions like depression, anxiety and ADHD make concentration and organization difficult.  Modifications on the job could include:

  • addition of room dividers, partitions or other soundproofing or visual barriers between workspaces to reduce noise or visual distractions;
  • private offices or private space enclosures;
  • office/work space location away from noisy machinery;
  • reduction of workplace noise that can be adjusted (such as telephone volume);
  • increased natural lighting or full spectrum lighting;
  • allowing music (with headset) to block out distractions; and
  • reduction and/or removal of other distractions in the work area.

Equipment and technology resources might include:

  • tape recorders for recording meetings and training sessions;
  • "white noise" or environmental sound machines;
  • handheld electronic organizers, software calendars and organizer programs;
  • remote job coaching, laptop computers, personal digital assistants and office computer access from remote locations; and
  • software that minimizes such computerized distractions as pop-up screens.

Also, consider the language you use in the workplace. Phrases like “that’s so crazy,” “you’re nuts,” “snap out of it,” “just be happy” can stigmatize very serious illnesses and create a negative workplace for your employees.

Theresa Witham is CUES’ managing editor/publisher. Email her at theresa@cues.org

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