How to Discuss Mental Health Accommodations With Your Employer
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When thinking of disability accommodations in the workplace, most employers focus on providing physical or technical accommodations such as wheelchair ramps or screen readers. However, “invisible” disabilities, like post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorder, are also protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If this impacts you, it’s important to know you cannot lose your job because of depression or anxiety as long as your employer makes reasonable accommodations to meet your needs.
That also means that you must discuss those needs with your employer in a way that helps him or her make adjustments yet provides you a level of comfort. This is true whether or not your disability is invisible. Despite the challenges of such a discussion, it is critical to protecting your rights and your job.
Know Your Rights
While there are many things you might want your employer to do, you must first familiarize yourself with your rights. The ADA itself does not include a list of psychiatric or mental disabilities, but it defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” If your ability to work is impaired in this way, you may have a good foundation for building a list of accommodation requests.
Keep in mind that some conditions are required for ADA standards to apply to your employment situation:
- Your disability must be a condition found in the DSM-5, the authoritative handbook used by the psychiatric community to diagnose mental health conditions.
- It must be considered a long-term condition. You cannot lose your job to depression if it has been clinically diagnosed and has been a struggle for many months.
- Substance abuse disorder is also listed as a disability in the ADA.
Additionally, your employer (or even a prospective employer) does not have the right to ask you if you have a disability. Your right to privacy is protected by law. That means that you alone can bring up these issues and the people you discuss it with have no right to share that information about you specifically.
Take the time to review the documentation on the ADA website and find sources that can interpret any questions you might have about the various sections.
Plan Your Request
Once you understand how these laws apply to you, plan your request with your employer. The ADA’s flexibility means that it’s up to determine what your employer can do to better accommodate your workplace needs. What are some reasonable requests that you can ask for? Here is are a few suggestions:
The ADA covers service dogs for invisible disabilities such as autism, allergy detection, and PTSD. Your employer will need to find a way to accommodate having an animal in the workspace or find other solutions. Keep in mind, though, that therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA.
Remote Work Options
If your workplace hinders your ability to complete tasks, consider requesting remote work options. Since the pandemic in 2020, most companies have offered flexible work arrangements for staff members that are not required to be onsite for their duties. Some larger firms are even switching major portions of their staff to fully remote.
Once COVID started, organizations had to learn to manage many of their teams remotely, typically for the first time. This meant increased flexibility of working conditions, such as allowing employees to work from home, and heightened use of technology to keep teams connected. All this contributes to accessibility for employees who require accommodations. If your employer has shifted to a remote model, put systems in place to stay mentally and physically active at home as well as productive. Setting up an office where you won’t be disturbed during work hours and taking regular breaks to stretch will help.
Inclusive Corporate Atmosphere
Wise companies are taking measures to ensure that their workplace is inclusive. This can include training on awareness and etiquette for nondisabled staff members, as well as leadership training on how to create a more disability-friendly atmosphere. If your company doesn’t offer this, you may want to request it to prevent future difficulties.
Even if they do, without your input, issues that may not be readily apparent can fall through the cracks. For example, for workers struggling with substance abuse disorder, corporate events involving alcohol can be difficult. Examples of these include out-of-office events that take place at a bar or free alcohol in the office.
You can propose several solutions to address these challenges. Be sure that the things you suggest are realistic for your employer to practically accomplish. Don’t worry about costs though; reasonable accommodations should be in any employer’s budget.
Set Up a Meeting
Once you are fully aware of your rights and have come up with a list of requests and solutions, it’s time to set up a meeting with the right people at your company. Invite the proper human resources representative to attend to ensure that the meeting is formally documented. For company-wide policy solutions, such as disability etiquette training, make sure that those responsible for implementing this change are in attendance and be prepared to have follow-up meetings.
Plan what you are going to say ahead of time including asking for discretion and confidence from your employer. Remain calm and focused on your objective rather than confronting them with anger. They may not yet be aware of your needs. Maintaining a positive professional relationship by informing and guiding them will help everyone get on the same page more quickly.
Another scenario that is challenging for people with invisible disabilities is the job interview. Candidates can get tripped up by seemingly simplistic questions, such as “tell me about yourself?” Before going on an interview, it’s important to think about how much you’ll share about your disability if at all. Plan to address this question with a professional answer that highlights your skills for this position.
Some good advice is to keep your answers short and simple, yet authentic. Create a story that fits with your work experience and sells you as the perfect choice to hire. And be sure to look out for the company’s approach to inclusion and diversity to ensure that this position is the best fit for you.
Discussing your accessibility needs with your current or prospective employer can seem like a challenge. However, it’s necessary for you to be successful in your work and can even improve your company. Be prepared by knowing your rights, planning your requests, and practicing what to say at your meeting or interview.
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