Not all casualties from the recent wars were physically injured. Many wounded warriors have come home with devastating psychological injuries. Post traumatic stress disorder,or PTSD, is a common injury suffered by soldiers. However, PTSD is not limited to service members. Other people have been diagnosed with PTSD for a wide variety of traumatic experiences, such as violent crime, death of a loved one, surviving a disaster and bullying. PTSD occurs because someone who has suffered a serious trauma experiences symptoms of the disorder within months and maybe years of the trauma. The National Institutes of Health estimates that there are 7.7 million new cases of PTSD per year.
Employers need to be aware that some of their employees may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. These employees may or may not know that they have the condition until symptoms manifest. Symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating, such as flashbacks, where the person feels like the traumatic event is recurring; nightmares about the trauma, causing the employee to lose sleep or have disturbed sleep which can cause lower productivity in the workplace; and emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, agitation, hostility, depression and/or an increased, abnormal level of the fight or flight reaction. All of these symptoms can have a negative effect on job performance and can even jeopardize continued employment.
Employers should understand that no matter what the trauma was that caused an employee to develop post traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms are real and the person may struggle to control their symptoms. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission recognizes PTSD as a condition that can cause disability and falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If an employee does become disabled because of PTSD, but wishes to maintain their employment, employers are required under the ADA to make reasonable accommodations if the employee requests them so they can continue working. Employers do have a right to ask the employee to submit to a medical examination to substantiate the PTSD diagnosis prior to accommodating the employee’s request.
Some accommodations will cost the employer little or nothing in the way of monetary expense. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), some of these include:
- Working a flexible schedule to accommodate periods of anxiety, depression or feelings of agitation that may keep the employee from being effective in the workplace. Included here will be times that the employee may need to be off to attend doctor or therapist appointments if these professionals don’t have hours outside of normal work schedules. If possible, allow the employee to work from home occasionally, on weekends or in the evenings (if the employee normally works daytime hours).
- Ensuring that the employee understands directives. PTSD can cause diminished concentration and comprehension. One way to rectify the situation would be to make all directives in the form of written communication, such as memos and emails. The employer can send out a memo to all employees summarizing the discussion from meetings or to remind the employee of upcoming deadlines.
- Allowing the employee to take an extra break whenever they feel symptoms coming about. Employee and employer can agree on how this break will fit into the employee’s work schedule and designate one or more people to cover for the employee as needed.
- Allowing the employee to tape record meetings so they do not miss any details brought on by a decreased level of concentration.
- If the employee requires the presence of a service animal, allowing them to bring the animal to work may be necessary. The employer should make sure that the animal will not cause a disturbance of services or be in violation of any health codes. If this is the case, an alternate plan may need to be developed so the animal can be a helpful accommodation for the employee.
- Putting the employee in touch with the company’s Employee Assistance Program. This program can help the employee identify services that they may not known were available, such as sessions that are free of charge with a mental health professional.
Other types of accommodations can be found at the JAN website here.
The employer should keep in mind that other employees may question why the worker with PTSD is allowed extra break times or other accommodations. The employer is obligated to maintain confidentiality, so these accommodations should be discreet. If a coworker questions the practice, the employer should tell concerned coworkers to talk to the employee with PTSD, who then can share whatever information they feel comfortable sharing.
Employers can use their own judgement on the level of accommodations they are willing to make. The law states that employers are only obligated to make reasonable accommodations. If the worker with PTSD asks for an accommodation that the employer is not comfortable making, the employer should explain the reasons to the worker who is making the request. Employers should always document their reasons for allowing or disallowing accommodations that are requested.