Accommodating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a one of the common disabilities you are likely to encounter in the workplace, but one that is often unseen and poorly understood. Let’s consider these two examples:
Scenario 1: A military veteran returning to work after serving in the war is employed as an office worker and is easily frightened when approached unexpectedly. Works in a cubicle.
Scenario 2: Office worker who was stalked and harassed by a former employee now has a panic disorder. She is fearful of answering her office phone.
According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD is a debilitating mental condition that can occur after experiencing horrific events. These events typically involve the individual experiencing or witnessing actual or threatened physical harm, and arise from such events as natural or man-made disasters, accidents, or military combat. Individuals with PTSD can re-experience the event and suffer symptoms that include avoidance of certain situations, a detachment from their surroundings, general anxiety, loss of sleep, irritability, and anger.
The impact on the workforce is that 30% of men and women who spent time in war zones have PTSD and women are twice as likely to have it. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. PTSD limits brain function, which qualifies it as a disability under the ADA.
The ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability.
Here are some accommodations to consider:
- Manage Stress
- Consider a flexible work schedule, rest breaks away from their desk, Employee Assistance Program involvement.
- Arrange their office so their desk faces the door
- Allow them to use a headset to listen to music
- Interaction with Coworkers
- Educate all staff on sensitivity
- Don’t mandate the employee to attend work related social functions
- Encourage all employees to move non-work related conversations out of work areas
With planning and consideration, the workplace solutions for accommodating this complex condition are often simple and inexpensive:
- Office worker veteran with PTSD is easily frightened when approached unexpectedly.
- Possible Solution: Placement of a monitor-mounted mirror in cubicle so he can see the entrance behind him. Placement of a sensor mat at the entrance of cubicle which can make an audible alert when someone steps on it.
- Office worker who was stalked and harassed by a former employee.
- Possible Solution: Use of telephone with caller ID function and/or call blocking, a change in ringtone or frequency of telephone ringer to reduce panic reaction, route calls through a switchboard, and disable employee’s district extension in phone book.