Reasonable Accommodations for Employees with Mental or Psychological Disabilities

Feb 22 2023

Josh Goodbaum: Hi, Amanda.

Amanda DeMatteis: Hi, Josh. What are we going to talk about today?

Goodbaum: I want to talk about reasonable accommodations. And when we think about reasonable accommodations for a disability, we often think about a physical disability. Someone, perhaps, who’s in a wheelchair. Someone who’s had an operation. But we don’t always think about someone who has a psychological or mental disability. Someone who is dealing with anxiety or depression, for example. But those people are just as entitled to accommodations under our disability law, so tell those people what they need to be thinking about when they’re thinking about an accommodation for a mental or psychological disability.

DeMatteis: Yeah, they sure do have the exact same entitlements as those suffering from physical limitations or disabilities, so I’m glad we are talking about this.

Really, my three rules are the same, whether it’s a mental disability or a physical disability, and what are those rules? Notice, doctor, lawyer. And we are going to unpack those and talk about them, but those are the three things you need to be thinking about.

The first is notice. You have to tell your employer. If you are suffering from something mental health-related and it is impacting your ability to do your job, you have to tell your boss about it. You’ve got to tell your employer about it. Without doing that and putting them on notice, they don’t have any obligation to provide you with anything. So, number one, let them know what’s going on.

You don’t need to give them a whole open view into your mental health and everything going on in your life, but you do need to let them know, ‘Hey boss, hey employer, I’m going through something. I’m suffering from, whether it be depression or anxiety, or I just need time away from work.’ You really don’t need to say more than ‘on account of my mental health.’ That’s all you need to do, but you need to put them on notice.

Number two, doctor. Your doctor’s got to be in this with you. You have to talk to your doctor about, ‘What it is that I need? What can I do to be able to perform the essential functions of my position?’ Because that’s what you need to do as an employee.

So talk to your doctor. When you are thinking about these things from a physical disability standpoint, it’s, ‘Maybe I need a magnifier on my computer screen,’ right? ‘Maybe I need easier access to a walkway or to a lavatory,’ or whatever it may be, right? Think about all these physical things that could happen.

What about from a mental disability standpoint? Maybe you need less time with a particular aggressor at work. Maybe you need some isolated time to do work just by yourself and then work with others whom you participate with on a regular basis. You have to get kind of crafty and think about, ‘What is it that I can do for myself? What is it that my employer can do for me that’s going to allow me to perform the essential functions of my job?’ But you have to do that in consultation with your doctor because ultimately, your doctor is going to need to put pen to paper on this and say, ‘Hey, Amanda, or Josh, or whoever you are, Connecticut employee, you need A, B, and C to be able to perform the essential functions of your job the right way.’

Number three, lawyer. Talk to an employment lawyer. You don’t realize how many laws you’re actually triggering by engaging in this protected activity of asking for a reasonable accommodation at work. We have our Americans with Disabilities Act. We have our Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Maybe it’s a work injury that’s requiring it, so it’s triggering our workers’ compensation statutes. Maybe you need time off as a reasonable accommodation, and that triggers FMLA.

There’s a lot of different laws working in this particular area that are available to help you and to give you what you need as you’re struggling through this. Talk to an employment lawyer about the crossroads between all those different laws and how they can best protect you in the situation that you’re in. And then this way, you’re going into this decision-making process, eyes wide open, and you have a much better idea of what to expect.

Goodbaum: This is outstanding advice. Thank you so much, Amanda!

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