Depression. Anxiety. Bipolar Disorder.
These and similar mental health diagnoses may affect your boss, the CEO of your company, the head of HR, your assistant, two of your peer workers, or maybe even you.
And their symptoms may also affect how well employees perform their jobs. Just as with physical disorders, mental disorders that rise to the level of qualifying as a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (and similar state and local laws) require the employer to provide accommodations to allow the employee to perform essential job functions. This article explores some of the steps you should be taking as an employer of someone with a mental disability — and the first step is to start the process with patience. As a wise colleague of mine recently told me, “Patience is a weapon. Use it aggressively.”
As with physical disorders, mental disorders take many forms and express themselves at work in many different ways. Certain employees may become withdrawn, maybe not even coming to work; others become hostile, “obnoxious,” acting out. Some employees may have trouble remembering; others, who previously had been “well mannered,” may say inappropriate things to co-workers or clients, patients, or customers.
As is apparent from these examples, there is no “one size fits all” way of addressing the need for a workplace accommodation. That leads us to lesson number two: every time you deal with an accommodation issue — while you should always draw on past experiences to guide you — you should remember that each employee medical situation is unique, and you will need to carefully explore the particulars of that specific employee’s essential job functions, how the mental disorder is affecting him or her, and which types of reasonable accommodations may exist.
Here are some additional practical steps to help you through the process: