As more veterans are returning to the work force, employers should be aware that some of those employees could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and accommodations may be necessary to help those employees cope.
In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 11 percent of veterans returning from Afghanistan suffer from PTSD while this is true for 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq. Even 7 percent to 8 percent of civilians are estimated to develop PTSD at some point in their lives, says Dr. Doug Hicks, mental health case manager of The Standard. With so many people possibly inflicted with PTSD, it can hurt productivity, especially when considering the syndrome’s symptoms.
Common PTSD symptoms include detachment from others, insomnia, anger outbursts and guilt, Hicks says. These symptoms typically make it more difficult to work with others and can cause cognitive problems, such as lack of concentration and memory issues, leading to poor productivity.
“Crowds and other environmental stimuli, such as auditory stimuli, can trigger flashbacks and other troubling symptoms,” Hicks says. “If you have an employee with PTSD who wants to be isolated and stay away from those environmental stimuli, he or she might call in sick more often, so now you have productivity problems because they’re not at work.”
To help employees deal with PTSD and improve productivity, an employer should create a flexible, caring environment, Hicks says. For example, if an employee needs time during the day to see a psychologist, the manager should be flexible with that employee’s schedule. In other cases, a supervisor should consider allowing that employee to work remotely or even on a part-time basis to help deal with the stress. Not one accommodation works for every worker suffering from PTSD, and a manager should be open to determining the best solution for that particular employee.
“It takes a lot of courage to talk to HR or a supervisor and admit to having symptoms of PTSD,” Hicks says. “The best solution is having that manager or the HR person being very sensitive and confidential about that information and willing to ask what can be done to accommodate that employee’s health in order to stay at work. Each case is will be different.”
An employer should keep in mind that as part of the Americans With Disabilities Act, an employee is not mandated to reveal a diagnosis of PTSD, but he or she must notify the employer of PTSD if accommodations are required in order to perform essential job duties. Once that employee notifies the employer he or she has PTSD, the employer can ask that employee undergo a medical examination if it is necessary for the job. This typically happens once the employee with PTSD experiences an incident that could place doubt on his or her ability to safely return to work.