Accommodating Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are signs an employee may exhibit that require a supervisor's intervention?
  2. Persons with psychiatric disabilities are often described as anxious, withdrawn, agitated or timid. There is no single group of characteristics that generally describes persons with psychiatric disabilities. Supervisors and managers should take notice of changes in an employee's appearance or behavior that may signal the possibility of a psychiatric disability. These changes could be related to productivity, attendance, concentration and/or interaction with coworkers and supervisors. Do not ignore the employee's own expressed concerns. Early recognition can allow the supervisor to communicate in a positive and helpful way.

  3. How do I approach an employee exhibiting signs of potential psychiatric disability?
  4. To discuss a situation with an employee whom you believe needs help, arrange a private conversation. Keep your communication clear and focused by pointing out specific, observable job performance problems. Listen attentively and allow the employee to talk about what is going on. Do not give unsolicited advice or try to cheer the person up. A person experiencing this type of disability cannot simply "shape up." It is best to remain objective, and to calmly ask the person how you can help. Research resources in advance that can help the employee to identify options. Make the person aware that resources are available to assist her/him in determining the appropriate type of intervention. Above all, treat this individual as you would wish to be treated yourself.

  5. Who can request accommodations?
  6. The employee with the disability, a family member, friend, health professional or other representative may request a reasonable accommodation on behalf of an individual with a disability.

  7. What type of documentation is required?
  8. An employee requesting an accommodation does not have to use any specific wording and does not have to submit the request in writing. Supervisors presented with a request for accommodation may need to ask questions and clarify the medical documentation submitted. Employees seeking reasonable accommodation will be asked to provide the appropriate medical documentation from their health care provider. The University Standard Practice Guide (SPG) 201.11-1 requires medical documentation for a psychiatric disability to be completed by physicians specializing in psychiatry or a psychologist who possesses a doctoral degree.

  9. Is there central funding available to help cover the costs of accommodations?
  10. It is the responsibility of the unit to reassign work and cover any additional costs. Temporary staffing and work reassignment are recommended to help a work group absorb the loss of a contributing employee.

  11. What information can a supervisor disclose to superiors, the work group and others concerned about an employee?
  12. Information about an individual's psychiatric disability requires sensitive and confidential communication. The information must be limited to those with a legitimate need to know. Respect for an employee's privacy is critical. Documentation must be kept in a separate medical file. It is best to let employees tell their coworkers what they want concerning their current and/or prior health status.

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