Employee Rights and PTSD: A Closer Look

Guest Post By: Lizabeth C. S. Bell


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There are many kinds of disabilities. Often, physical adjustments are made to make the workplace more accessible; ramps allow greater mobility for wheelchairs, technology can be supplied to help those with visual or hearing limitations. But it is easy to forget about the many people who have disabilities that aren’t visible. One condition, which is becoming increasingly prevalent, is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD. This disorder affects millions of Americans to differing degrees, and employers must learn to work with the special situations created by living with the condition.

PTSD is caused by a wide spectrum of traumatic events, including exposure to war, experiencing abuse or sexual assault, and receiving a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. The condition is classified as an anxiety disorder, which means that people who have it suffer from extreme fear, tension, and apprehension. Sufferers can experience flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, anger, or hypervigilance. Symptoms can arise at any time, so a person with PTSD is likely to experience symptoms in the workplace at some point.

Given that increasingly more people are suffering from PTSD, it is important to be aware of what rights and laws affect those with the disorder, as well as their employers. Laws that are pertinent to other disabilities are often applicable to PTSD, and require employers to adapt to the needs of people with the condition. One example of this is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law provides for people with PTSD, particularly veterans, who have an extremely high incidence of the condition. According to the law, and the symptoms of the disorder, employees with PTSD may need more frequent breaks, or greater schedule flexibility. Some people with PTSD have a service animal, and therefore must be permitted to bring the animal to work.

Another law which makes provisions for PTSD is the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). The FMLA is a broad law that outlines available family leave for many situations. This includes serious mental conditions, and therefore covers PTSD. The FMLA provides eligible workers with up to 26 weeks of unpaid, job-secured leave within any 12-month period. This leave can be used to attend appointments pertaining to an employee’s serious condition, and to deal with periods of incapacity. Immediate family members of people with PTSD may also qualify for leave under FMLA, which can be helpful in dealing with the condition. The FMLA is not applicable to all employment situations, but the law clearly defines its parameters, and this information is readily available through government agencies.

PTSD is a serious condition that takes a great toll on its victims and their families. Employment and the work environment can also be impacted by PTSD, but it is important to realize that there are special laws which help both employer and employee to deal effectively with the situations that the disorder creates. Awareness of these laws will help greatly to make the workplace a supportive environment for those affected by PTSD.

About the author:Lizabeth C. S. Bell has a diverse background in English and library science. Currently, she does research analysis and writing for EmploymentLawHQ, helping them make it easy for people to determine their FMLA eligibility. Insatiably curious, Lizabeth is interested in everything and loves sharing new knowledge with others.


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