Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But determining whether an employee has a disability and what accommodations are appropriate can be tricky. Is ADHD a qualifying disability and what are some typical accommodations for it?
Here’s what employers should know about the prevalence of ADHD in the workplace, and how to provide reasonable ADHD accommodations at work.
What Is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can impact a person’s ability to concentrate, stay focused, and sit still. Although ADHD has typically been diagnosed in childhood, more and more adults are receiving ADHD diagnoses, and as many as 4% of adults experience ADHD symptoms daily.
Adult ADHD symptoms may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fidgeting or inattention
Some symptoms of ADHD may be visible to co-workers, but others may be mild or have a minimal impact on performance, especially if an employee with ADHD has developed coping strategies. Some adults with ADHD may take medication to help with focus and concentration, including stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.
Who Is Entitled to ADHD Accommodations at Work?
Workplace accommodations are guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers any mental or physical condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activity.” The ADA applies to employers with at least 15 employees, while state laws may offer similar protections at even smaller organizations.
Employees aren’t required to disclose their ADHD diagnosis, in which case they won’t be eligible for ADHD accommodations at work. If an employee is asking for workplace accommodations, they should be prepared to disclose their ADHD diagnosis, and the employer can ask for verification of the disability and its impact on their work.
Employers should keep in mind that ADHD symptoms can overlap with the symptoms of other conditions, such as autism and anxiety disorders. Employees who aren’t covered by the ADA may qualify for other protections, such as a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for mental health.
5 Common ADHD Accommodations at Work
The symptoms of ADHD can vary widely, so there’s no single work accommodation that applies to all employees with ADHD. As an employer, you’ll need to engage in the ADA interactive process to find the most suitable accommodation for each employee. Here are five options to consider when employees request accommodations for ADHD.
1. A Quiet Workspace
Employees with ADHD may find it difficult to focus in a noisy work environment. One solution is to provide them with a private workspace where they can have more control over any distractions. If a private office isn’t possible, consider allowing them to wear noise-canceling headphones or offering to provide a white noise machine.
These ADHD accommodations can help to reduce distractions so they can perform the essential functions of their job. Other options are to move them to a different part of the office or allow them to work from home or from a coworking space.
2. A Flexible Schedule
Having ADHD can make it hard for employees to stay focused during a standard 9-to-5 workday, or they may experience “hyperfocus” and struggle to switch from one task to the next based on a predetermined schedule.
Potential accommodations include allowing them to take breaks throughout the day, or to set their own hours and work routines. By providing a more flexible schedule, you’ll allow employees with ADHD to play to their strengths and work when they have the most focus, even if it’s outside of your typical work hours.
3. Clear Documentation
Employees who have ADHD may struggle with executive function and deciding which tasks to focus on next. They may find it difficult to pay attention during meetings, and have a hard time turning verbal instructions into actionable items on their to-do list.
Employers can help with task prioritization by providing clear due dates for action items and creating step-by-step checklists for more complex tasks. They can also provide a written agenda before meetings to help participants with ADHD follow along.
4. Direct or Indirect Assistance
Employees with ADHD may have trouble with time management and may rely on task management software more than other employees. Reminder apps, timers, and other productivity tools can all be effective ADHD accommodations at work.
Employers can also provide more direct assistance by adding tasks to the employee’s calendar for them, or offering personalized training and support.
5. Eliminating non-essential job functions
Under the ADA, an employee’s job duties can be defined as “essential” and “marginal” functions. The main purpose of ADHD accommodations at work is to ensure that the employee can perform their essential functions. If marginal tasks can be reassigned, this could also be considered a reasonable accommodation.
For example, if answering the office phone is impacting their overall job performance, the employer could reassign that responsibility to another employee.
Best Practices for ADHD Accommodations at Work
Implementing ADHD accommodations at work can take some effort, but in many cases, they can be arranged without too much difficulty or expense. Chances are your human resources team is already familiar with some of these accommodations, and you can always turn to the Job Accommodation Network for more ideas.
Here are three best practices to keep in mind before, during, and after an employee asks for ADHD accommodations.
Have an Inclusive Hiring Process
First, foster a company culture in which accommodations aren’t treated as a hassle or an inconvenience, but a way to support a diverse and inclusive team. After all, people with ADHD bring many strengths to the table and do their job well when you provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
Prospective employees aren’t required to disclose their ADHD diagnosis during the hiring or onboarding process, and employers aren’t allowed to ask. But by making it clear that your company is willing to accommodate employees with ADHD, you can reduce the stigma and make them more comfortable asking for support.
Engage in the ADA Interactive Process
Providing ADHD accommodations at work isn’t a top-down decision, but a collaborative process between the employer and employee. It’s called the ADA interactive process, and it requires both parties to work together to find an agreeable solution.
In some cases, the best accommodation will be obvious, and in other cases you may need to brainstorm ideas. The employer can decide which accommodation to try out first even if it isn't the employee’s first choice.
Employers can only refuse a request if it would cause “undue hardship,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Schedule Frequent Check-Ins
ADHD accommodations under the ADA aren’t set in stone. An employee’s needs and job description may change over time, and an accommodation that worked for a while may no longer be suitable for them. Check in with the employee often to see if the accommodation is working and consider alternative options if it isn’t.
Consider having workplace trainings around neurodiversity so co-workers can better understand how to support colleagues with ADHD at work.
Transform the Accommodation Process With Pulpstream
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that has been historically diagnosed in children, but is increasingly common in adults. Employees with ADHD may struggle with time management, concentration, and task prioritization, and are entitled to reasonable ADHD accommodations at work under the ADA. This could include a private office, flexible work hours, or assistive software tools.
Pulpstream makes it easy to navigate the ADA interactive process with our cloud-based HR management software. Use it to document your ADHD accommodation process to ensure compliance with the ADA, FMLA, and other employment laws.