ADA & Disabilities

Danger—Managers’ Myths and Misconceptions About Mental Disabilities

Misguided assumptions about accommodation of mental disabilities—held by your managers and supervisors—create legal landmines in the courtroom, says Attorney Patricia Eyres. In today’s Advisor, she shares the seven worst myths.

HR needs to be alert to the attitudes of supervisors and coworkers, says Eyres, who is managing partner of the Eyres Law Group LLP in Irvin, California. Here’s what your managers and supervisors are thinking:

  • We only have to consider reasonable accommodations when the injury or illness is work-related. No, says Eyres, the source of the disability is irrelevant—it doesn’t matter if it is occupational or not. In fact, she adds, most employees with depression have nonoccupational depression.

Nevertheless, she adds, depression is often first detected in the workplace. This is because depression is often overlooked at home or enabled by understanding or head-in-the-sand family members. At work, where goals and expectations are usually clearer and there’s less of a tendency to enable, depression’s symptoms become more apparent.

  • Everyone is stressed from workloads and performance expectations. Playing the “stress card” is irresponsible or lazy.
  • An employee whose own behavior caused his depression (e.g., family problems, gambling, financial burdens, or chronic conditions) doesn’t deserve consideration for an accommodation.
  • An employee with a mental disability is always a safety risk and must be kept out of any safety sensitive job.
  • We have no budget for accommodations or we only have budget to accommodate people who are physically disabled.
  • Accommodating people with mental or emotional disabilities is too disruptive to productivity.
  • Since we can’t possibly remove all stressors from the work environment, we can deny accommodation and put the employee on leave instead. (No, not without exploring every possible way to keep people at work—leave is the last resort)

These attitudes are common—and misguided.


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The Challenge of Inexpert Providers

One unavoidable challenge of dealing with mental disabilities is that most of those dispensing treatment—and completing work restrictions and leave certifications—are not specialists in mental health issues. Studies estimate that 80% of people taking antidepressants are receiving their prescriptions from a general practitioner or other health provider who is not a psychiatrist, says Eyres.

Nevertheless, you have to take those certifications and work restrictions and deal with them, because you have to take the word of the treating  healthcare  provider.

What Symptoms Indicate Depression?

Information from the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) suggests the following stress and clinical depression symptoms, says Eyres:

  • Marked decrease in ability to do the job, especially if the decrease is a sudden change
  • Working more slowly than usual
  • Frequently missing deadlines
  • Making excuses for incomplete or inadequate work
  • Frequently calling in sick
  • Lack of ability to concentrate
  • Showing decreased interest or involvement in work or work-related functions
  • Withdrawal from interactions with coworkers

Address the problem first as a performance issue, says Eyres. Do not leap to the conclusion that there’s a mental health problem. And certainly, don’t say, I think you need to take time off; there seems to be a mental problem.

What Trends are Emerging with Employee Disability Claims Based on Depression?

  • Headaches, migraines, or insomnia
  • Work-related anxiety and panic attacks
  • Sleep disturbance that affects job performance
  • Stomach disturbance, gastric distress
  • Situational or interpersonal issues with work group
  • Inability to work in a particular environment
  • Making excuses for poor or untimely work product
  • Panic attacks in response to performance feedback
  • Anger management issues
  • Anxiety disorders, fearfulness
  • Sadness, crying spells, trembling

What Types of “Work Restrictions” Are Doctors Providing?

  • Working a modified schedule
  • Transfer to a different department, team, or work group
  • Transfer to a different supervisor
  • Changes to the supervisor’s management approach
  • Workload reduction
  • Reassignment to a different position or facility
  • Change in environment
  • Assistance or aide to help with workload
  • Longer or more frequent breaks
  • Limiting time in large meetings
  • Short-term time off for illness
  • Long-term leave of absence

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What Reasonable Accommodations for Depression Might You Consider?

  • Attendance
    • Allowing flexible scheduling
    • Modifying schedule
  • Concentration and memory
  • Reducing distractions
  • Increasing natural lighting or providing full-spectrum lighting
  • Working from home/telecommuting
  • Dividing large assignments into smaller tasks
  • Restructuring job
  • Providing memory aids such as schedulers, organizers
    • Providing flexible breaks
    • Providing stress management techniques
  • Fatigue
    • Providing goal-oriented workload
    • Reducing tasks
  • Memory
  • Providing a job coach or a mentor; allowing additional training time
  • Providing written checklists
  • Organization
  • Using daily, weekly, and monthly task lists
  • Dividing large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

In tomorrow’s Advisor, the challenge of mitigating measures, plus an introduction to the new leadership training system from TrainingToday®.