Accommodating bipolar disorder in the workplace

You are protected by the ADA if you have a disability: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities.

Major depression and anxiety disorders (including agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder) almost certainly qualify as disabilities because of their effect on daily life.

If your depression or anxiety makes it hard for you to sleep, work, concentrate, think, regulate your emotions, or care for yourself, for example, then it is a disability under the ADA.

(For more information, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.) Employees with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations: changes to the workplace, job, or employment policies that will allow them to do their work.

Once you’ve made your request, your employer may ask for more information or documentation of your condition and the way it affects you.

Your employer doesn’t have to provide the precise accommodation you request, but it must engage in a “flexible, interactive process” with you to try to come up with an accommodation that will be effective.

Anxiety disorders may lead to intrusive thoughts, feelings of panic and fear, and difficulty handling changes and job-related stress.

If your depression or anxiety is making it difficult for you to work, and you believe changes such as a modified schedule, a less noisy office space, or more help tracking your assignments and workload would help, you should request an accommodation.

So how should employers handle employees who are both troublesome and valuable?

That’s the dilemma posed by some employees with bipolar disorder, a condition characterized by moods that go from extremely good to exceptionally bad.

If an area of concern arises, confront it directly and work with your employee to take care of it. Think of your best employee, regardless of mental disorders, and promote based on skill.

If your top employee is a person with bipolar, gauge his performance, absences, relationships with coworkers and how much you've actually noticed the bipolar affecting his performance.

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