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Set Yourself Up for Success: How Reasonable Accommodations May Help You Manage PTSD in the Workplace

You don’t have to let PTSD limit your ability to work and thrive. You can talk to your employer about reasonable accommodations to help you succeed in the workplace.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect many aspects of your life – from your relationships to your ability to sleep at night. Depending on your symptoms and their severity, you may find PTSD is having a negative impact on your employment as well.

With PTSD, it may be hard to trust the people around you. You may struggle to stay focused and alert. There may be particular sounds or smells that cause a flashback or panic attack.

You don’t have to let PTSD limit your ability to work and thrive. You can talk to your employer about reasonable accommodations to help you succeed in the workplace. Learn more about reasonable accommodations, how to talk to your employer about them and some examples that can help you make the most of your time at work.

What Is a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment or the way things are usually done at work. The goal of these modifications is to help all individuals have an equal opportunity to get a job and successfully perform their job tasks and can include things like an altered work schedule, a quieter workstation or the option to work from home.

As someone dealing with PTSD, you have a legal right to ask for a reasonable accommodation to help you succeed in the workplace.

How Do I Get a Reasonable Accommodation?

There are no specific rules on how to get the process started. Your job, your relationship with your employer and how comfortable you are talking about your PTSD will most likely influence how you go about it, but here are some ideas:

  • Begin by thinking about your PTSD and the impact it’s having on your work. Is it that you’re having trouble with your schedule? Are you feeling unsafe at your workstation? Is there a particular smell or sound that’s causing you to have flashbacks? Try to identify the problems you’re experiencing and match them with a reasonable accommodation that may help.
  • Approach your employer and start a dialogue. This should be an interactive process and will look different for everyone. Here are some things to keep in mind when you begin:
    • Your employer may not be aware that you’re struggling or that you have PTSD. Your employer may not know what rights you have or what reasonable accommodations look like. This may be a learning process for everyone.
    • You can tell your supervisor, a human resources manager or another appropriate person that you need a change at work because of a medical condition.
    • When you ask for a reasonable accommodation, your employer has the right to know why, so be prepared to share.
    • You can make your request in writing or face to face. Your employer may ask you to put your request in writing or describe the way PTSD is impacting your work. You may be asked to submit a letter, form, or other documentation from your health care provider to verify your condition and work limitations.
    • Your request doesn’t get shared with your coworkers and is only shared on a need-to-know basis.
    • Your employer must help you find a reasonable accommodation that meets your needs unless the accommodation involves significant difficulty or expense. This is called an “interactive process” and may involve your employer offering alternatives, or engaging in dialogue regarding the accommodation and your needs.
    • You cannot be fired or denied a promotion because you asked for a reasonable accommodation.
  • Agree upon a reasonable accommodation. After an accommodation gets put in place, be sure to keep communication open with your employer about its effectiveness.

What Are Some Reasonable Accommodations for Managing PTSD?

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers several different examples of reasonable accommodations for PTSD and can help you brainstorm additional ones. Everyone has a different employment situation and not all accommodations listed below will be effective for you, or for your type of work. For example, not everyone can ask to sit in a quiet office to keep anxiety levels down. Not everyone can safely use sound-canceling headphones while working. But using the list below as a guide, you can begin to get an idea of some accommodations that may help you thrive.

Symptom: You have difficulty concentrating, are easily distracted or struggle with remembering things.

Reasonable Accommodations:

  • A space enclosure or a quieter location to perform your work
  • Headphones to listen to soothing music or white noise to block out distracting sounds
  • Step-by-step directions or a request to divide large tasks into smaller ones
  • Better lighting
  • A tape recorder so you can record important conversations and meetings
  • A task list at the beginning of your day or your shift, making it easier to know what you’re expected to accomplish

Symptom: You have difficulty coping with stress or difficult emotions while you’re at work.

Reasonable Accommodations:

  • More frequent breaks so you can use stress-reducing techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises
  • Time off or a flexible schedule to keep up with your regular counseling and mental health appointments
  • Stress management techniques that you can incorporate while at work
  • A support animal to help you stay calm and work through difficult emotions
  • Time to use the telephone to talk to others for support

Symptom: You struggle to interact effectively with coworkers or supervisors.

Reasonable Accommodations:

  • Instructions in writing or via email instead of face to face
  • Written feedback on a consistent basis so that you’re clear about how you’re doing at work
  • An information session on PTSD for coworkers or supervisors to help them understand what you’re going through
  • Flexible scheduling that allows you to work from home
  • A quiet place to work that allows you to keep your distance from other people
  • A separate lunch or break time that allows you some time to yourself

Symptom: You have sleep disturbances such as nightmares or insomnia making it difficult to stay alert at work.

Reasonable Accommodations:

  • A consistent schedule, so that your start and end times are consistent
  • A flexible start time
  • More frequent breaks for stretching, resting and moving around
  • Task rotation to prevent boredom or long stretches of repeating the same thing

Symptom: You have trouble managing your time and staying organized.

Reasonable Accommodations:

  • Time management devices, such as timers, alerts and reminders to help you stay on task
  • Organizational tools such as a planner or a calendar
  • To-do lists with tasks broken into small steps that are easy to check off
  • Frequent check-ins from a support person who can ensure you’re on task and managing your time wisely

Symptom: You have panic attacks or symptoms of anxiety or hypervigilance while at work.

Reasonable Accommodations:

  • A support person or animal to use at work as a way to manage your anxiety
  • A calm and quiet place you can go to relax for a few minutes
  • Elimination of particular smells or sounds that cause you to become anxious or upset
  • A workstation that makes you feel comfortable and safe

What Resources Are Available to Help?

You don’t have to hide your PTSD at work, and you may find that with a reasonable accommodation, you can get back to work and set yourself up for success!

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