Everyone gets stressed out at work from time to time, but if an employee is consistently stressed or anxious, they may be experiencing an anxiety disorder. With a professional diagnosis, they may be eligible for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to some mental health conditions.
But what are some ADA accommodations for anxiety, and what are your obligations as an employer? Here’s what you need to know about ADA accommodations for anxiety and how to navigate the ADA interactive process in a compassionate way.
What Is An Anxiety Disorder?
According to the Mayo Clinic, an anxiety disorder is a mental health condition in which a person has “excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.” It can take the form of panic attacks, social anxiety, and other phobias.
Anxiety-related conditions are distinct from occasional stress or anxiety in that they’re ongoing and interfere with everyday life. Some related conditions include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
These conditions may overlap or be mistaken for other mental health conditions, such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism.
Who Is Entitled to ADA Accommodations for Anxiety?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides certain job protections to employees who have a physical or mental condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activity.” This includes the right to reasonable workplace accommodations that enable them to perform the essential functions of their job.
Employees aren’t obligated to disclose their mental illness or medical condition unless they’re seeking accommodation under the ADA. Their employer may require them to provide medical documentation from a healthcare provider in order to confirm their mental impairment or psychiatric disability and which job duties it impacts.
Employers can only refuse to provide accommodation if it would cause “undue hardship” as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, small businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from ADA requirements.
4 Reasonable Accommodations for Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a common workplace issue, and as an employer, there are many steps you can take to provide a positive work environment for all of your employees. But if your employee has an ADA-qualifying anxiety or panic disorder, you may be obligated to provide them with additional support to avoid employment discrimination.
Here are four workplace accommodation ideas for employees with anxiety.
A flexible schedule
Providing a flexible work schedule is one of the most common ADA accommodations for anxiety. It allows employees to take time off for mental health treatment when they need to, or even work from home to avoid a stressful commute or busy workspace.
If a flexible work schedule isn’t an option, allowing the employee to take more frequent breaks can take some of the pressure off during the work day.
A private workspace
Poor working conditions can be a contributing factor to stress and anxiety, so providing a private workspace or quiet work environment can be an effective accommodation. If a private space isn’t available, consider installing a soundproof barrier, natural lighting, or a white noise machine to minimize distractions and reduce stress.
Another possible accommodation is a pair of noise-canceling headphones that allow the employee to tune out distractions and focus on their job performance.
A support person or service animal
If an employee has severe anxiety, they may benefit from having someone in the office they can turn to. This could be a job coach who helps them learn how to perform new job tasks, or simply a trusted colleague who can help them during a panic attack.
Support animals also have a role to play in managing anxiety. According to Healthline, psychiatric service dogs in particular can identify an anxiety attack coming on and take steps to calm their owner or get help. Emotional support animals can’t fulfill the same functions, but can still provide a calming presence to an anxious employee.
A change in management style
Sometimes, an employee’s anxiety disorder may be triggered by a personality clash with their supervisor. Maybe their supervisor micromanages them or assigns tasks at the last minute. Although requesting a new supervisor isn’t a reasonable ADA accommodation for anxiety, a change in communication methods or management style can be.
For example, an employee could request to use a different communication channel — such as Slack messages rather than phone calls — to reduce anxiety. They could ask for more time to complete tasks, or to be excused from high-stress meetings.
ADA Accommodation Best Practices
Although ADA accommodations for anxiety are common, it can still take some effort to find the right accommodation and implement it. The ADA interactive process is a set of guidelines that can help you and your employee work together to find a solution. Here are three things to keep in mind as you navigate the process.
Ask how you can help
Employees may not know that they’re eligible for ADA accommodations for anxiety, or they may be reluctant to disclose their mental health condition. If you suspect that an employee is struggling with their mental health at work, ask how you can help.
Although you can’t require them to disclose a disability or accept an accommodation, you can give them an opportunity to initiate the ADA interactive process.
Keep it confidential
Just because an employee has disclosed an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean they want their colleagues to know about it — in fact, that could make their anxiety worse. Keep their condition confidential and only disclose information on a need-to-know basis.
For example, an employee’s supervisor may need to know some information in order to honor a requested accommodation, such as a modified break schedule. But in general, any ADA paperwork should only be accessed by your human resources team.
Check in frequently
An ADA accommodation for anxiety isn’t a fixed policy, but an ongoing conversation. It may take multiple tries to find the right solution, and an employee’s needs may change over time. After implementing an accommodation, check back in to make sure it’s still working and continue to review it and make adjustments on a regular basis.
Alternatives to ADA Accommodations for Anxiety
In some cases, an employee may not be eligible for anxiety accommodations under the ADA, but still has a mental health condition that’s affecting their job performance. Here are two other alternatives to consider.
Personal leave of absence
Your organization may offer a personal leave of absence policy that allows employees to take time off for a wide range of reasons, from sick leave to a sabbatical. Work with your employee to allow them to take paid or unpaid leave to seek treatment for their mental health condition and avoid burnout.
FMLA for mental health
The ADA applies to ongoing disabilities, while the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers chronic medical conditions. If an employee is experiencing a mental health crisis, they may be eligible for a leave of absence under FMLA for mental health.
FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of leave per year for eligible employees working at an organization with at least 50 employees, among other criteria.
Streamline the ADA Interactive Process With Pulpstream
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide one or more reasonable accommodations to employees with a qualifying disability, including mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders. Some ADA accommodations for anxiety include a flexible schedule, a support animal, or a private workplace.
Employees with a mental health condition may also be eligible for a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (ADA).
Use Pulpstream to streamline leave of absence management with support for FMLA leave, ADA accommodations, and the return-to-work process. Pulpstream’s no-code platform does all the hard work for you so you can automate HR processes without having to write a single line of code. Request a demo to see for yourself!