When it comes to modifying jobs, employers are often more comfortable dealing with physical illness and injures rather than mental illness situations. For example, if an employee has a shoulder problem, you’d be inclined to ask about reaching and overhead lifting restrictions. In contrast, when it comes to mental health problems, many employers respond with the “deer in the headlights” reaction. You might be wondering if the employee is fit to work.
I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. Mental health conditions can be addressed the same way physical conditions are addressed.
Start the same way you would with a physical problem. Find out the employee’s functional capacities. To do this, ask the psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider if the employee can perform the mental functions of her job, such as:
- Work with the public
- Handle deadlines and time frames
- Handle multiple demands at one time
- Analyze and make decisions or deal with shades of gray that are not easily determined
Additionally, developing a functional capacity form specifically for cognitive job functions can be extremely useful. It should contain information about every job concerning mental or emotional requirements — defined as temperaments in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. This focus on the capacities, rather than the diagnosis, can greatly assist in identifying what the employee needs to remain at or return to work.
Recently an employee at a library started showing behaviors that made his employer question his ability to do his work properly. The employee’s psychiatrist recommended that he not deal with the public. In this case, it was possible to modify his position to avoid contact with the public so he was able to return to work. This preserved his quality of life and saved the employer from the expense of recruiting and training a new employee.
Remember these tips the next time you are faced with a mental illness. It is possible to re-imagine the workplace, no matter the condition.