PTSD: Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace

Posted on December 30, 2014 by VITAL WorkLife

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events such as natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist incidents, war or violent personal assaults. People who experience PTSD often relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares. They may have difficulty sleeping or may feel detached or estranged.

PTSD is common in war veterans who have served in heavy combat, but it may also affect civilians. The symptoms of PTSD may improve or disappear with time. In some cases, however, symptoms persist for years. PTSD may occur with or contribute to other disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, problems with memory, and other problems of physical and mental health. It occurs more often in women than in men.

Not all people who experience trauma require treatment. Some people recover with the support of family, friends or religious leaders. Many benefit from professional treatment for the symptoms that result from experiencing, witnessing or participating in an overwhelmingly traumatic event.

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

  • Intrusion of thoughts, vivid memories and flashbacks
  • Avoidance of situations, activities or people that are reminders of the traumatic event
  • Hyper-arousal, insomnia, a constant sense of danger or exaggerated startle reactions
  • Emotional numbness or a flood of emotions
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering information

Accommodating Workers With PTSD

Not all people with PTSD will need accommodation, and many will not ask for help. Needs for accommodations vary widely depending on an individual's particular limitations. Reasonable accommodations for employees with any of the following symptoms of PTSD might include:

Memory:

  • Provide written instructions
  • Provide written minutes of each meeting

Lack of concentration & performance issues:

  • Provide clear expectations and the consequences of not meeting expectations
  • Reduce distractions in the work environment
  • Increase natural lighting or increase full spectrum lighting

High levels of stress or emotion:

  • Allow more frequent breaks
  • Assign a supervisor, manager or mentor to answer employee's questions
  • Refer to the employee assistance program (EAP)
  • Allow time off for counseling

Panic attacks:

  • Allow the employee to take a break and go to a place where she or he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person
  • Identify and remove environmental triggers such as particular smells or noises

Not sure which accommodations you can or should reasonably offer? The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues at askjan.org.

VITAL WorkLife clients can also contact an EAP counselor to discuss issues you may be having around managing a report suffering from PTSD, or if you want guidance on how to refer that employee for EAP services.

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