"Participating in an interactive process with an employee requesting an accommodation will minimize risk of liability," said Justine Lisser, a senior attorney advisor in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's communications and legislative affairs office.
She also says employers should avoid making any assumptions about who can have PTSD because veterans and nonveterans alike may have the disease.
"Employers should not rely on their own understanding of PTSD, including its symptoms, causes, and course of development," Lisser said. "PTSD can manifest differently in different people, can be caused by a range of events, and may develop quickly or slowly after the traumatic event."
Therefore, employers may ask for supporting documentation from a health professional when there are "doubts about whether an individual has PTSD, or about whether a requested reasonable accommodation would help," she said, noting that employers should not ask for more information than is necessary.
Once the documentation reveals that the employee has PTSD, "the employer's focus should be on whether it can provide a reasonable accommodation that meets the individual's needs, without undue hardship," she explained. Even if the requested accommodation creates an undue hardship by posing a significant difficulty or expense, the employer "should consider whether another accommodation is available that would help the employee with PTSD work."
The key is to "avoid relying on myths, fears, and stereotypes about people with PTSD, particularly any assumption that they are unable to perform a certain task, or that they will engage in misconduct or pose an increased threat to themselves or others in the workplace," Lisser added. Instead, employers should assess the employee's ability to perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation on an individual basis.
Accommodating PTSD can be somewhat different from accommodating other disabilities. "The symptoms of PTSD vary widely from person to person," Lisser said. So the "accommodations vary widely as well."
This means that the interactive process is particularly important since the employee can help determine what type of accommodation is needed.
However, "finding the right accommodation may also involve some trial and error," she noted. Some individuals with PTSD have difficulty with concentration and memory but can perform the job with reminders. The employer in that case might need to try different combinations of memory aids to see what works best to enable the individual to get the job done, Lisser explained. Outside organizations, such as the Job Accommodation Network, are a good resource when trying to find accommodation ideas.
Maintaining confidentiality. Employers also have to ensure they keep the individual's PTSD and any supporting documentation confidential.
When PTSD places restrictions on the employee's work or gives rise to a reasonable accommodation affecting the employee's work, the Americans with Disabilities Act "allows an employer to tell managers or supervisors about an employee's disability," she said. But those supervisors and managers must also maintain the confidentiality.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
March 18, 2013
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