Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect workers in a number of ways, and may strike at unexpected times. Concentration, social interaction, reading or learning may be difficult for a person with PTSD. Certain sensory triggers—including sounds, imagery and smells—can exacerbate the condition, requiring special accommodations in the workplace. Though workers and job applicants need not disclose they have been diagnosed with PTSD, informing an employer activates the employee’s rights under federal law.
PTSD can be classified as an anxiety disorder under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Accordingly, most workers who suffer from PTSD have the right to reasonable accommodations from their employers for their conditions. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more workers. Employment agencies, labor organizations and state and local governments are also bound by the law. Any employer who violates the ADA practices illegal discrimination. In addition, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prevents the federal government from discriminating against people with disabilities.
If there is an accommodation that an employer can make to lessen an employee’s challenges of working with PTSD, the employer is obligated to do so unless the measure would pose an undue hardship. Instead of making assumptions about how PTSD might manifest itself or affect performance, an HR representative or supervisor should ask a worker to describe his or her condition and what form of reasonable accommodation is desired.
What is considered a “reasonable accommodation” depends on the employee and his or her specific needs. While one person with PTSD may benefit from working remotely or having the companionship of a support animal, another may simply wish to wear noise-canceling headphones or to avoid bright lighting. In another case, an employer may be asked to provide written instructions or to-do lists rather than only communicating verbally. Alterations to work hours, supervisory methods or workplace policies may also be appropriate.
Employers should be aware that people with PTSD are not necessarily recognizable by their appearance or career history. Further, an employee with the disorder can be an invaluable member of the workplace. Though PTSD is often discussed in the context of veterans, it can result from many types of accidents and traumatic events.
At Feldstein Grinberg Lang & McKee, P.C. in Pittsburgh, we represent Pennsylvania businesses against workers’ claims that they have suffered discrimination or have been denied reasonable accommodations after reporting a disability such as PTSD. If you are an employer facing such a claim, one of our experienced employment attorneys can offer a free 15-minute consultation. Call us at 412-471-0677 or contact us online to make an appointment.