How can an employer accommodate depression?

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Question:

I have been diagnosed with depression. I have begun a course of treatment, including medication and therapy, but I am still tired much of the time, have difficulty concentrating, and don't remember things very well. I'm having trouble doing my job, but I'm not sure what my employer can do to improve the situation, beyond giving me time off to see my therapist. Are there reasonable accommodations an employer can provide for depression?

Answer:

As long as you are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your employer must make reasonable accommodation for your condition, unless doing so would create an undue hardship. The symptoms you are describing are common for people suffering from depression. And, there may be some accommodations that can help, from changes in the way you receive your assignments to flexible scheduling.

The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to allow employees with disabilities to do their jobs. Not every condition or impairment qualifies as a disability: It must substantially limit a major life activity or a major bodily function. From what you have described, it sounds likely that your depression will meet this test. Concentrating, thinking, sleeping, and caring for yourself are all major life activities. If your condition impairs your ability to perform these basic functions, you will likely be found to have a disability. 

A reasonable accommodation is a change to the workplace or the job itself that will allow a person with a disability to perform the essential job functions. When many people think of reasonable accommodations, they picture physical changes to the workspace, such as widening hallways, making a bathroom accessible for someone in a wheelchair, or installing ramps and handrails. Indeed, any of these changes might be a reasonable accommodation. However, many accommodations don't require purchasing equipment or doing construction, but instead require changes in style. For mental disabilities in particular, the most effective accommodations may involve the way others manage, schedule, and communicate with you. 

Here are some examples:

  • Because you have difficulty concentrating, your employer might be able to reduce distractions in your workspace (by soundproofing or moving you from a cubicle into an office space with a door that closes and walls that extend to the ceiling, for instance). Your supervisor could break your assignments down into smaller parts, checking in more frequently to make sure you are on target. Or, your company could provide you with a large white board for your work space, which you and your manager can use to chart your work load and progress. 
  • For memory problems, you might ask that your manager give you work assignments in writing, rather than orally. You might schedule a regular check-in with your supervisor to go over your work load. Your company could provide you with an electronic organizer and training on how to use it to calendar important tasks and set up alerts. 
  • Allowing you to work from home occasionally, or to vary your work schedule so you can sleep later in the morning, might assist with your fatigue. 

Of course, the specific accommodations that would be most effective for you will depend on your condition, your job, your workspace, and your employer. You can find many more ideas at the Job Accommodation Network's page, Accommodation Ideas for Depression

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