National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Accommodations at Work: What You Need to Know

By Stephanie Corkett, NAMI Communications Intern

At the 2012 NAMI National Convention in Seattle this past June, Jenny Haykin, M.A., C.R.C., discussed what persons living with mental illnesses need to know about accommodations at work. In her informational session, Haykin explained different ways to go about asking for accommodations and whether accommodations are beneficial for individual work problems.

The workplace, where adults spend most of their time has many triggers that can unnerve workers and decrease productivity. Haykin explained that triggers “are stimuli that set individuals into a place where they aren’t happy.” Triggers for most people include change in the workplace, feeling out of control, conflict of values and rejection.

Haykin provided many factual examples of when asking for accommodations was successful and times when they were denied. Haykin explained that accommodations can sometimes address triggers but accommodations aren’t always the answer.

The first thing to take into account Haykin said, is whether your job fits your personality. “Individuals have to make the right choice in their choice of job,” noted Haykin. If an individual chooses a job where they have to make presentations but they have a fear of public speaking, an accommodation wouldn’t solve the problem; the job simply isn’t a good fit for the individual.

If a poor job or employer match is the problem, then accommodation will not solve the underlying problem.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, initially enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship.

Haykin explained that if you as a worker are qualified for the position you hold and can do essential functions effectively, you can ask for an accommodation at work. An accommodation is anything that makes it easier for a worker to complete essential job functions. Some examples of accommodations include regulated breaks, interruption management, tailored communication methods and eliminating marginal functions.

If an individual wants to ask for an accommodation, Haykin suggested kindly letting the employer know you’re asking for an accommodation. “Your supervisor is the person who works with you to provide these accommodations, make theses interactions collaborative instead of putting your supervisor on the defensive,” she added.

Haykin also suggested coming to your supervisor with ideas. Some supervisors won’t have any ideas for you so you’ll have to bring your own. Haykin advises that individuals bring an open mind to your ideas and don’t demand things from your supervisor. They ultimately decide what will be implemented.

Haykin also encouraged individuals not be become discouraged if an accommodation doesn’t work the way it was planned. Finding the right accommodation is a trial and error process.

If accommodations aren’t working, and you need time off from your position, Haykin recommended qualified individuals take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If the employer in question has 50 other employees within 75 miles of an office, the employee has worked 12 months with the company and has worked 1,250 hours in the past year that individual qualifies for 12 weeks or 480 hours off from their position.

Haykin recommended using FMLA thoughtfully and only taking time off if it is really needed while giving employers as much notice as possible for extended leave.

Haykin concludes with the message that your job isn’t over if you cannot get an accommodation, job reassignment is another possibility if you cannot complete your essential job functions. If there is an open position in your company that you qualify for the employer is obligated consider you for that position.

Understanding an individual’s rights to accommodations and medical leave is crucial for those living with mental illnesses. Federal laws are there to assist workers with disabilities. Accommodations are a beneficial tool that can help reduce workplace triggers that can cause unproductivity. Understanding what can be done to assist you in your job can only benefit the longevity of your career.

For more information about accommodations, Haykin recommended the free services of the Job Accommodation Network.