HR Management & Compliance

Reasonable Accommodations for Mental Illnesses

Most HR teams are aware of their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAA). They understand that they’re required to utilize an interactive process when configuring reasonable accommodations for anyone who qualifies and that many conditions, including mental health conditions, easily qualify.

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But mental health conditions can sometimes present a stumbling block for anyone who doesn’t have experience working on appropriate accommodations. For this reason, we’ve put together a list of potential reasonable accommodations for those with mental illnesses. Of course, as any similar list would be, this list is not specific to any individual and is not meant to encompass every available accommodation; rather, it is meant to provide some ideas of what reasonable accommodations may be useful for various mental health needs.

Ideas for Reasonable Accommodations

Here are a few ideas for reasonable accommodations for employees with certain mental illnesses:

  • Remote work, which can provide distance from triggering factors in the work environment.
  • Flexible hours, later start time, or more flexibility in on-time attendance and overall attendance. This type of change can accommodate many different concerns. For example, a later start time could be beneficial if morning medications make someone groggy. Or, flexible hours could accommodate an individual who has frequent appointments and could be implemented as split shifts, more frequent breaks, or shorter workdays.
  • Personal leave, FMLA leave, disability leave, or some other leave can allow someone to recuperate from any specific problem. Additional days off could also help employees manage various conditions.
  • Temporary changes to workload or specific assignments, with the intent of changing problematic parts of the workload. It’s important to note that an employer is not required to eliminate essential job functions. An employee must be able to perform essential job functions (either with or without accommodation) to be qualified for the job, but removing minor functions can be a reasonable accommodation.
  • Longer time to complete tasks. Of course, like anything on this list, this should be allowed within reason and without it becoming an undue hardship for the employer.
  • Changes to the work team, which could be either temporary or permanent, depending on the situation.
  • Less travel. This can help with stress levels and accommodate healthcare appointments.
  • A more private work space or other changes to enable better concentration or provide for fewer distractions.
  • Assistance with prioritizing tasks and/or additional training on how tasks can be best completed.
  • Changes to the way information is communicated. For example, some people work better with written (rather than verbal) communications. If other team members work with this, it can be a great accommodation. Another example might be allowing the use of recording devices during meetings, which can alleviate pressure and assist with memory issues by allowing an employee to review what was said.
  • White noise devices to minimize disruptive, noisy external environmental conditions, allowing the use of noise-canceling headphones while working, or moving the employee’s work space to a more conducive environment.
  • More natural lighting in the work space.
  • Enrollment in a mentoring program or coaching program.
  • Allowing food and/or drink in the workplace, if not already allowed. This type of accommodation can alleviate the side effects of certain medications.
  • Allowing a support animal in the work space.
  • Organizational assistance, such as voice recorders, electronic calendars, personal electronic organizers, etc.
  • Reassignment to a different position that is better suited to the individual’s needs.
  • Changes in how work assignments are delivered. For example, some people may work better with tasks that are broken down into smaller duties rather than large projects.
  • Changes in type or frequency of feedback.
  • Training other team members about antidiscrimination and antiharassment (without divulging information about specific individuals, of course).
  • Advance notice of upcoming changes and new assignments. This can ease stresses associated with change.

These types of accommodations can address issues such as medication side effects, difficulties in concentration and organization, memory lapses, difficulty with early mornings, need for time off for appointments, difficulty with negative feedback, problems with noisy environments and overstimulation, difficulty interacting with others, difficulty with time or other external pressures, difficulty with change, etc.

What other accommodations have you found to be useful in your organization?

For more information on supporting employees with anxiety or depression, check out this article.

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.