What kinds of accommodations can I ask for?

What are reasonable accommodations?

Accommodation is a means of removing barriers for someone with a disability so that they can work effectively. In most cases accommodations are inexpensive and involve workplace flexibility rather than capital expenditures.

Employers are required by law to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee up to the point where it causes undue hardship to the employer.

Undue hardship is determined by factors such as the cost of the accommodation, and whether it affects the health and safety of the employee or others in the organization. It is up to the employer to provide evidence that an accommodation would create an undue hardship.

Many people with disabilities—whether psychiatric or other disabilities—don’t need accommodations. As more attention is paid to removing and preventing systemic barriers to people with disabilities, the need for individual accommodation may decrease. For example, if an employer has a flex-time program that benefits all employees, an employee with a mental illness who needs to modify their hours of work to coincide with medical treatment can do so without having to ask for an accommodation.

Sometimes a short period of accommodation is all that’s required while an employee adjusts to medication. While most people think of accommodations as physical changes to the workplace, such as building a ramp for an employee who uses a wheelchair, people with a mental illness require different types of accommodation. For example, someone with depression or an anxiety disorder might find that an accommodation which allows them to work in a private office instead of in a noisy open-space office helps them to work much more happily, productively, and with fewer health and disability costs.

What kinds of accommodations can I ask for?

There is no list of reasonable accommodations that you must choose from; the process of finding an accommodation should be based on your needs and your employer’s resources. If you are working for a small company with only three employees, your employer may not be able to provide the same type of accommodation as a large employer.

In view of the discrimination and stigma that people experience when they have a mental illness, an employer not only has an obligation to provide accommodations that assist the employee, but they must also take steps to prevent workplace harassment. For example, if an employer becomes aware that employees are making derisive comments about people with mental illness, whether or not they know that a co-worker has a mental illness, they should take steps to deal with it.

Examples of accommodations

The most commonly used accommodations for people with mental health problems include:

  • Flexible scheduling
    • Flexibility in the start or end of working hours to accommodate effects of medication or for medical appointments.
    • Part-time shifts (which may be used to return a worker to a full-time position).
    • More frequent breaks.
  • Changes in supervision
    • Modifying the way instructions and feedback are given. For example, written instructions may help an employee focus on tasks.
    • Having weekly meetings between the supervisor and employee may help to deal with problems before they become serious.
  • Changes in training
    • Allowing extra time to learn tasks.
    • Allowing the person to attend training courses that are individualized.
  • Modifying job duties
    • Exchanging minor tasks with other employees.
  • Using technology
    • Allowing the person to use a lamp instead of fluorescent lights to eliminate a flicker which may be irritating or cause a reaction.
    • Providing the employee with a tape recorder to tape instructions from a supervisor, training programs and meetings if they have difficulty with memory.
    • Allowing an employee to use head phones to protect them from loud noises.
  • Modifying work space or changing location
    • Allowing an employee to relocate to a quieter area where they will be free from distractions.
    • Allowing an employee to work at home.
  • Job coach assistance in hiring, and on the job
    • A job coach may be someone from an outside agency that assists the employee in the workplace. Alternately, someone within the workplace, such as a peer or human resources staff person might perform this role.
    • The job coach can help in a number of ways such as assisting the person to fill out applications, helping them to reduce their anxiety by providing feedback, observing their work and making suggestions about accommodation.

Sources:

  • "What Accommodations Work on the Job?" Centre for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University. Retrieved August 8, 2005, from www.bu.edu/cpr/reasaccom/employ-accom.html.
  • Office of Disability Employment Policy, US Department of Labor. "Work-site accommodation ideas for people with psychiatric disabilities." Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved January 20, 2003, from www.jan.wvu.edu/media/Psychiatric.html.

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