When you suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression, it can be tough to get through the workday. Anxiety disorders can lead to:
And depression can cause:
The resulting problems at work and with supervisors can aggravate these already very challenging conditions.
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:
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:
Your depression or anxiety is a disability under the ADA if it makes it hard for you to do any of the following:
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.)
Employees (and job applicants) with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations that will allow them to do their work, including changes to:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
Other examples of reasonable accommodations that might improve your ability to concentrate at work include:
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:
If you struggle with organization, reasonable workplace accommodations might include:
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:
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:
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:
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:
You can find many more accommodation ideas on the website of the Job Accommodation Network.
According to the EEOC (the agency that enforces ADA rules), allowing you to work from home is sometimes a reasonable accommodation when:
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