Getting an Accommodation for Depression or Anxiety in the Workplace

Here are some examples of common reasonable accommodations for anxiety and depression.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

When you suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression, it can be tough to get through the workday. Anxiety disorders can lead to:

  • intrusive thoughts
  • feelings of panic and fear, and
  • difficulty handling changes and job-related stress.

And depression can cause:

  • extreme fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory problems, and
  • trouble with deadlines and attendance.

The resulting problems at work and with supervisors can aggravate these already very challenging conditions.

The ADA Can Help You Get Accommodations

The good news is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) might offer some help. If you work for a private employer with at least 15 employees, your employer can't discriminate against you if you have a disability—including a qualifying mental or psychiatric condition. And, if you have a disability, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations that will allow you to do your job.

But what exactly are reasonable accommodations for anxiety and depression? This article will discuss:

  • how the ADA protects workers with mental impairments
  • your right to workplace accommodations under the law, and
  • some examples of reasonable accommodations for anxiety and depression.

When Are Depression and Anxiety Protected Under the ADA?

The ADA protects you if you have a disability: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities. Major depression and anxiety disorders almost always qualify as disabilities because of their effect on daily life. Some examples of major anxiety disorders include:

  • agoraphobia
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Your depression or anxiety is a disability under the ADA if it makes it hard for you to do any of the following:

  • eat or sleep
  • work
  • think and concentrate
  • communicate or interact with others
  • regulate your thoughts or emotions, or
  • any other "major life activity."

You might be protected under the ADA even if your symptoms come and go. What matters most is how limiting your symptoms are when they flare up.

(For more information, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) guidance on depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.)

Your Right to Reasonable Accommodation for Anxiety or Depression

Employees (and job applicants) with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations that will allow them to do their work, including changes to:

  • workplace
  • job, or
  • employment policies.

Your employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would create undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense, considering your employer's size and resources).

But if you need a reasonable accommodation, you must ask for it. The ADA doesn't require your employer to guess that you have a disability or need an accommodation. So if your depression or anxiety makes it difficult for you to work, you should ask for changes you believe would help. Reasonable accommodations could include the following:

  • a modified work schedule
  • a less noisy office space, or
  • more help tracking your assignments and workload.

You don't have to make your accommodation request in writing, but it's a good idea to do so. That way, you can make sure you've clearly communicated your needs to your employer, and you'll have a record of your request. Once you've made your request, your employer can ask for more information or documentation of your condition and how it affects you.

The company you work for doesn't have to provide the precise accommodation you request. But your employer must engage in a "flexible, interactive process" with you to try to come up with an accommodation that will be effective.

For example, if your new supervisor has a harsh and critical style that makes your anxiety worse, you might ask to report to your former supervisor, whose style was more positive. Instead of granting your request, your employer might ask your new supervisor to take a more constructive approach with you and offer a mediator to help the two of you get along better.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations for Depression and Anxiety

The accommodations you need will depend on your job and how your anxiety or depression affects you. There are many ways your employer might accommodate your condition, including allowing you to take time off work if you need to:

  • see a doctor or therapist during the workday
  • take occasional days off when your condition is exacerbated, or
  • be hospitalized from time to time.

Many different kinds of problems can arise at work if you suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder. Likewise, there are many examples of reasonable accommodations that might be effective for anxiety or depression so you can continue working.

When Anxiety or Depression Creates Attendance Problems

Both anxiety and depression can make it difficult to go to work when you're supposed to. For instance, if you're taking medication that makes you groggy in the morning, you might have difficulty getting to work on time and getting your work done once you arrive.

Depending on the kind of work you do, any of the following examples might be reasonable accommodations that help improve your attendance at work:

  • a modified work schedule (like starting later in the day)
  • more frequent breaks (for calming or stress relief)
  • a hybrid schedule that allows you to work from home some of the time, or
  • a supportive coworker or supervisor who checks up on you.

Accommodating Concentration Issues Caused by Anxiety or Depression

Depression and anxiety can make it difficult to focus and think. If you're having trouble concentrating, you might request a change in your work environment to minimize unnecessary distractions.

If you work in a cubicle or near a noisy distraction (like a copy machine), any of the following might work to accommodate you:

  • a move to a quieter space
  • noise-canceling earbuds or headset
  • sound absorption or soundproofing panels, or
  • a white noise generator.

If your supervisor or coworkers frequently pop in to chat, you might ask that these visits be limited (or simply ask to be allowed to close your door to avoid these interruptions).

If the problem is artificial light and/or the lack of natural light in your workplace that makes it hard to concentrate, you might ask for:

  • incandescent or LED task lighting
  • a sunbox or sun-simulating desk lamp, or
  • relocation to a spot with a window.

Other examples of reasonable accommodations that might improve your ability to concentrate at work include:

  • task management or concentration apps
  • a desk pedal exerciser or fidget device
  • an electronic organizer, or
  • a modified or flexible break schedule.

Trouble With Memory and Organization Caused by Anxiety or Depression

Anxiety, and particularly depression, can make it difficult to remember and retain information and to keep complicated work tasks straight. There are many memory aids you can use, including:

  • whiteboards and bulletin boards
  • recording devices, and
  • note-taking and reminder apps.

If you struggle with organization, reasonable workplace accommodations might include:

  • organizing or workflow management software
  • a time management app, or
  • electronic or printed checklists.

When you have trouble remembering the steps you need to take or staying organized enough to complete a project, you could also ask for any of the following as a reasonable accommodation:

  • written step-by-step instructions for each assignment
  • regular feedback from your supervisor and details of your work in writing
  • frequent check-ins to help you stay on task, or
  • help breaking down big projects into more manageable tasks.

Accommodating Your Social Anxiety at Work

If you suffer from social anxiety, you know the crippling anxiety that can come with everyday social interactions. Add the pressures of the workplace, and social anxiety can disrupt your ability to work. But your employer might be able to reasonably accommodate your social anxiety in one or more of the following ways:

  • allowing you to use alternative communication methods (for example, email or text message instead of phone or face-to-face)
  • implementing a more flexible break schedule so you can step away when your anxiety flares
  • getting regular encouragement and positive feedback from your supervisor, or
  • giving you a hybrid work schedule that allows you to work remotely when needed.

When Depression or Anxiety Causes Decreased Stamina or Fatigue

Common side effects of some anxiety disorders, depression, and certain medications include feeling sluggish and tired much of the time. If you suffer from reduced stamina and fatigue, here are some examples of accommodations that might allow you to continue working at full capacity:

  • anti-fatigue mats
  • being able to sit when you're working (instead of standing all the time)
  • stand-lean stools
  • periodic rest breaks, or
  • task rotation (switching between tasks to reduce repetitive strain).

Getting Accommodation for Stress Intolerance on the Job

The anxiety that comes from low stress tolerance can make you feel anxious, irritable, and insecure. And it can affect your ability to concentrate and focus on your work. There are workplace accommodations that might help when stress threatens to overwhelm you at work, such as:

  • apps for stress and anxiety (including breathing and meditation apps)
  • modifying your workspace to create a calmer environment, which could include adding plants or changing the paint colors
  • removing or modifying marginal tasks that cause additional stress (tasks that aren't essential to your position and could be performed by others)
  • offering a flexible break schedule so you can step away from the job or take a walk when you need to decompress
  • allowing phone calls during work hours to your counselor or therapist for support, or
  • allowing you to bring a support animal to work.

You can find many more accommodation ideas on the website of the Job Accommodation Network.

Is Working From Home a Reasonable Accommodation for Anxiety or Depression?

According to the EEOC (the agency that enforces ADA rules), allowing you to work from home is sometimes a reasonable accommodation when:

  • your disability keeps you from successfully performing your job at your employer's workplace, and
  • you can do your job (or parts of your job) at home without causing significant difficulty or expense.

But your employer doesn't have to let you work from home if being onsite is essential to your position or allowing you to work remotely would create an undue hardship for the company. But under the ADA, your employer is required to work with you to try to come up with reasonable accommodations that allow you to do your job.

Hopefully, the interactive process works the way it's supposed to, and your employer agrees to reasonable accommodations for your anxiety or depression. But if your employer denies your request for accommodation, you might benefit from speaking with an experienced employment discrimination attorney who can review your situation and help you enforce your ADA rights.

Learn more about when to talk to an employment discrimination lawyer.

Updated February 28, 2023

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