PTSD and the Workplace

​Employers and supervisors
Some things that supervisor can do to assist the employee with PTSD are:

  • Listen to the employee's limitations related to job performance. For instance, if a woman has a history of sexual assault that occurred during the night and fears walking alone, she may request to have someone walk her to her car at night. She may even request not to work after dark.
  • Identify what specific tasks may be challenging. At times, PTSD symptoms may manifest themselves in cognitive challenges. An employee may need more time to finish a task or need an office which has less distractions.
  • Identify specifically how you can assist. The best way to find out how you can assist someone is to ask. This may be something that develops over time as the employee may not be aware of limitations until he or she runs into them. An open dialogue about how the employer can assist would be helpful from the beginning. Some survivors of abuse will feel embarrassed to admit they need help, so it is important to keep asking. You want to balance this and insure that you are making yourself available versus being overly persistent and aggressive. If a woman has been put down she may need to be encouraged to add input, acknowledging her input is valued.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the environment and the employee. If there are times that the employee is having a hard time or tasks that are not up to standards, speak directly to that employee about how you can assist them. Providing gentle and immediate feedback will allow the employee to determine what is needed to get the task back up to standards. This is not to say that all substandard work is due to PTSD symptoms, but it is helpful to know the origins of the problem.
  • Provide training for coworkers and supervisors. By providing training on PTSD and related symptoms, the other staff members can also be educated on how to help the individual. Sensitivity training may be needed on topics that are related to PTSD.

​Coworkers

  • Educate self on PTSD - Having an overview of the symptoms of PTSD is a starting point to supporting someone struggling with it. Providing assistance to the survivor varies by individual.
  • Ask how you can assist - It would be helpful to ask the individual what he or she needs. Practical assistance such as walking them to their car at night or being a safe person to talk to can prove to be invaluable to a survivor.
  • Listen to what the survivor has to say - So often, assumptions are made when people are speaking. We feel as if we are helping by "filling in the blanks" when people are talking when what we are really doing is interrupting them. Listening to an individual can sometimes be all that is needed at the time. Listening without interruption, without an agenda, and without the need to steer the conversation can prove to be very supportive to individuals. If the employee has difficulty verbalizing, permit him or her to communicate needs in writing.
  • Be open to communication about accommodations - Being open to a dialogue about the specific accommodations necessary will enhance everyone's understanding of what is expected. It will also give the coworker the opportunity to clarify what specifically will be helpful.​                   

​Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be a debilitating illness that inhibits the individual's life. One of the many areas that PTSD affects is the work place. There are many individuals with PTSD who are able to work and are functioning at a level where they are able to hold a job; some successfully, and some just barely. The level of success one has at his or her place of employment depends on many factors including the level of impairment, and support outside and inside the work environment. 


     Although at times the experiencing of symptoms is unavoidable, there are actions and safeguards that can be taken to avoid exacerbating them. Accommodations can be made to protect the individual and provide a safer work environment where the individual feels more comfortable and has the ability to engage in self-care while at work.

From the supervisors to the front line staff, we all need to care for those affected with PTSD. As with physical handicaps, through gaining an understanding and providing accommodations, we can cast a wide net of support for those suffering. We owe it to our veterans returning home, as well as to every trauma survivor, to create a supportive work environment. It starts with education and continues through making the necessary modifications to create a successful experience. It benefits the individual as well as the company when people come together for the betterment of one person. A place of employment is where individuals work together toward a common goal. Supporting the individual with PTSD should be a common goal for everyone. A weak link in a chain can be reinforced to become a valuable asset in strengthening the whole. At times it may be a challenging task, but there is great work to be done.

​​​The following publications can be ordered by telephone or viewed online.

A Guide to Disability Rights Laws
www.ada.gov/ta-pubs-pg2.htm#Anchor-14210
800-514-0301 (voice)
800-514-0383 (TTY)

Americans with Disabilities Act: Questions and Answers
www.ada.gov/q%26aeng02.htm
800-514-0301 (voice)
800-514-0383 (TTY)

The ADA: Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability
www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html
800-669-3362 (voice)
800-800-3302 (TTY)

Veterans with Service-connected Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
www.eeoc.gov/facts/veterans-disabilities.html

Accommodating Service Members and Veterans with PTSD
www.jan.wvu.edu/corner/vol03iss02.htm
800-526-7234 (voice)
877-781-9403 (TTY)

Accommodating Employees with Traumatic Brain Injury
www.americasheroesatwork.gov/accommodatingTBI.html
Accommodating Employees with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
www.americasheroesatwork.gov/accommodatingPTSD.html

So You Want to Go Back to School
www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/back-to-school-2008.html

Contact Information

All the agencies listed below provide technical assistance to help businesses, State and local governments, and individuals with disabilities understand the ADA. Each agency specializes in different ADA topics.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides information about the employment provisions of the ADA.

For questions
1-800-669-4000 (voice)
1-800-669-6820 (TTY)

For ordering publications by mail
1-800-669-3362 (voice)
1-800-800-3302 (TTY)

For ordering publications online
http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/index.cfm

Website
www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm
Email address -- info@eeoc.gov

Please include your zipcode and/or city and state so your email will be sent to the appropriate office.

Mail
Please call, or click on the website´s link "Contact Us," to get the address for the office that serves your area.

The Job Accommodation Network provides information about accommodating employees with disabilities.

800-526-7234 (voice)
800-232-9675 (voice)
304-293-7186 (voice)
877-781-9403 (TTY)
304-293-5407 (fax)
Website
www.jan.wvu.edu

Job Accommodation Network
PO Box 6080 Morgantown, WV 26506-6080


ADA Information Line  

The U.S. Department of Justice provides information about the provisions applying to businesses and State and local government agencies, including the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Contact the ADA Information Line to speak to an ADA Specialist who can answer questions and help you understand the ADA´s requirements. All calls are confidential.
1-800-514-0301 (voice)
1-800-514-0383 (TTY)
24 hours a day to order publications by mail
M-W, F 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Th 12:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. (eastern time) to speak with an ADA Specialist.
Website
www.ada.gov

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
DRS-NYA
Washington, DC 20530

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against qualified employees or job applicants on the basis of their disability. It covers all employment practices, including the job application process, hiring, advancement, compensation, training, firing, and all other conditions of employment. Under the ADA, employers cannot use eligibility standards or qualifications that unfairly screen out people with disabilities and cannot make speculative assumptions about a person´s ability to do a job based on myths, fears, or stereotypes about employees with disabilities (such as unfounded concerns that hiring people with disabilities would mean increased insurance costs or excessive absenteeism).

Additionally, employers must make
"reasonable accommodations" for employees with disabilities, which means changing the work environment or job duties to eliminate barriers that keep an individual from being able to perform the essential functions of the job. Employers are not, however, required to make accommodations that would result in an "undue hardship," which means accommodations that would result in significant difficulty or expense. Also, employers are not required to provide accommodations unless an employee requests them. So, if you´re a veteran with a hidden disability like PTSD, you can decide whether to reveal the disability and request accommodations. If you don´t need accommodations, you don´t have to disclose the disability. Employers with fifteen or more employees must comply with these provisions.

Typical examples of reasonable accommodations are:

  • Flexible scheduling at a retail store or restaurant, so a sales clerk or cashier with PTSD can attend counseling sessions or an employee with a spinal cord injury who has a lengthy personal care routine in the mornings can start his or her workday later.
  • Reducing clutter and distractions, providing instructions and information in writing, breaking down complex assignments into small steps, or allowing a job coach on the worksite to help a new employee get settled into the job.
  • Specialized equipment for a data-entry operator who has lost an arm, hand, or finger, such as a one-handed keyboard, a large-key keyboard, a touchpad, a trackball, or speech recognition software.
  • Making sure materials and equipment are in easy reach for a factory worker who uses a wheelchair.
  • Raising an office desk on blocks for a worker who uses a wheelchair, and making sure supplies, materials, and office machines are at a height that is easy to reach and use and are in a location that is not obstructed by partitions, wastebaskets, or other items.
  • Allowing more frequent work breaks or providing backup coverage when an employee who has PTSD needs to take a break.
  • Providing a stool for a sales clerk who uses crutches so he or she can sit when not serving customers.
  • If the employer has an employee parking lot, reserving a parking space close to the entrance for an employee who has difficulty walking because of the loss of a leg, foot, or toe.
  • Providing instructions and information in writing for an employee with hearing loss.
  • Allowing an employee to bring his or her service animal to work.
  • Allowing an employee with tinnitus to play soft background music or sounds to help block out the ringing in her ears.

INformation, Resources, and Support for Women with PTSD

​Some examples of problems associated with the workplace for those who have PTSD are:

*Memory problems
*Lack of concentration
*Difficulty retaining information
*Feelings of fear or anxiety
*Physical problems
*Poor interactions with coworkers
*Unreasonable reactions to situations that trigger memories
*Absenteeism
*Interruptions if employee is still in an abusive relationship, harassing phone calls, etc.
*Trouble staying awake
*Panic attacks

**Credit for much material/information given  to Amy Menna, Ph.D.

The Legal Information and Rights of those with PTSD Regarding Employment 

 Women with

  PTSD United

​​Survivors
Some helpful tools for a survivor are:

  • Concentration problems - A large complaint of PTSD survivors is difficulty concentrating because of the heightened state of arousal, stress level, or even fatigue. Reducing distractions such as noise and having a clean workspace will enhance the ability to concentrate. Making lists and creating small, goal oriented tasks will help create a sense of accomplishment. Also, it may be helpful to ask to work at a time that your concentration is at its peak (i.e. earlier in the morning before everyone gets there).
  • Memory challenges - There are often blocks to memory when there is so much happening in the mind of someone with PTSD. Common tricks are making lists, decreasing distractions, and increasing the ability to concentrate on tasks which will assist with the ability to remember things. Other ideas include setting reminders in a phone or computer, using a calendar, taking notes during a meeting, or asking for written instructions to given tasks.
  • Flashbacks - Flashbacks can be some of the most stressful symptoms at work. In a time where the survivor is supposed to be managing the environment, the environment starts to try and manage the survivor. There are many stress management techniques to deal with flashbacks. Finding the one that works is the key. As they relate to work, reaching out to the outside world can help, such as having someone available outside the office to take their phone calls if necessary. If possible, perhaps there is someone within the office that the survivor feels safe going to. Have a safe place within the workplace or outside the building that one can go to in the event of a flashback and have a pre-existing understanding with employers and coworkers that, in the event it's necessary, the survivor may excuse him or herself and take a phone call or go to that safe place. It is important to have a well-established protocol prior to a flashback occurring.
  • Anxiety and startle responses - Finding the triggers to the anxiety or startle responses is a starting point for addressing them. Many survivors have a difficult time when someone walks up behind them. In that instance, asking for a desk to be physically positioned (perhaps with their back against the wall or even having a mirror on it so one can see what is coming up behind them) would be empowering. Keeping oneself in a calm state throughout the day is important and taking care of one's anxiety will be necessary on an ongoing basis. This will take effort on the survivor's part such as listening to soothing music or just taking short breaks several times a day to do some deep breathing. By keeping one's resting state calm, the survivor can decrease the level of anxiety experienced. Again, how to maintain a calm work environment would be something to address with the employer as a preventative technique versus doing damage control in an anxious state.
  • Dealing with co-workers - Dealing with coworkers at times can be stressful in any work environment. Open communication is the key here. This does not mean that the survivor needs to share that they are experiencing PTSD, although it would help with understanding. In some cases, it simply means that there needs to be open communication among coworkers and employers. If there is a negative interaction with another coworker, address it with your employer. In addition, the survivor should allow him or herself to experience the broad range of emotions that this coworker might elicit, knowing that it may "strike a chord." Through processing these thoughts and feelings, the survivor can gain a better understanding of what bothers him or her and how to best address it. Answers may come in the form of working through the issue with the individual or perhaps in the form of a request to work part-time from home.
  • Difficulty handling stress - Stress management is often a difficult task at work for most employees. With PTSD, it becomes even harder. Stress management can come in many forms. The key is to practice coping mechanisms with consistency. Coping at work may mean having a longer workday because the survivor may need more breaks during the day. A flexible schedule may be necessary as counseling may be needed. Sometimes a difficult home environment may also necessitate a flexible work schedule. Predictability is the key to safety and reduces stress. The more predictable the survivor's schedule can be, the less stress. Creating a "game plan" at the beginning of the day to tackle the day's work will help, as will planning for breaks to take care of anxiety from PTSD and additional work-related needs that arise.