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Employees with PTSD

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What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that may develop in a person after they have experienced a psychologically traumatic event. Traumatic events may involve physical, sexual or psychological threats to oneself or someone else, such as rape, natural disasters, accidents, or military combat. People react naturally by coping. When the reactions to the traumatic event do not get better with time, it may develop into PTSD. It is important to get treatment as soon as symptoms develop in order to prevent long-term PTSD.

The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder estimates 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetimes. Women are twice as likely as men, and about 30 percent of people who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD.[1]

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

The symptoms of PTSD are categorized by the National Institute of Mental Health into three types:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

• Flashbacks

• Bad dreams

• Frightening thoughts.

2. Avoidance symptoms

• Staying away from certain types of places, events, or objects

• Feeling emotionally numb, guilty, depressed, or worried

• Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities

• Having difficulty remembering the traumatic event.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms

• Easily startled

• Feeling tense

• Trouble sleeping

• Angry outbursts.

Specifically in the workplace, uncharacteristic behavioral changes may be noticed. These symptoms can include:[2]

• Irritable or argumentative

• Become depressed or isolated

• Miss work irregularly

• Have trouble concentrating or communicating

• Anxious or startled easily

• Experience a decline in productivity

• Develop moodiness or relationship problems

These symptoms may be aggravated in stressful situation or when there are reminders of the traumatic event.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must last for more than one month and significantly impair one’s ability to function normally. Symptoms typically appear within three months of the event. When people have symptoms that last for only a few weeks, they may have acute stress disorder (ASD).

Are employees with PTSD required to disclose their disability to their employers?

Employees are not required, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to disclose a diagnosis of PTSD.[3] However, in the case where an accommodation is needed to perform the job, they are required to disclose their condition to their employer.[4] In addition, determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers may ask an employee with PTSD to submit to a medical examination (also called a fitness-for-duty exam). This examination tests the employee’s ability to safely and adequately perform the task.

Accommodating Employees with PTSD

Employees with PTSD may experience barriers to workplace productivity, in which a variety of strategies and accommodations may be required. There is a wide range of disability related to PTSD. Some people may not have any major limitations within the workplace, while others may have many limitations to consider. When determining what could be done to eliminate the barriers to workplace productivity, the individual’s limitations and workplace environment must be assessed.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) suggests considering the following questions:

1. What limitations is the employee experiencing and how do these limitations affect job performance?

2. What specific job tasks are problematic?

3. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems?

4. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?

5. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Accommodation Ideas

PTSD can negatively affect skills related to work, including memory, concentration, time management, organizational skills, and dealing with emotions. JAN provides the following accommodation ideas regarding each:


• Use a daily or weekly task list

• Provide written instructions, verbal prompts and reminders

• Use electronic organizers or handheld devices

• Allow additional training time


• Reduce distractions

• Provide private space

• Increase natural lighting

• Allow for the use of white noise

• Allow the employee to play soothing music using a headset

• Plan for uninterrupted work time

Time Management

• Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps

• Schedule weekly meetings with supervisor or mentor

• Remind employee of important deadlines via memos or emails


• Use calendars to mark meetings and deadlines

• Use electronic organizers

• Assign a mentor to assist the employee

Dealing with Emotions

• Refer to employee assistance programs (EAP)

• Use stress management techniques

• Allow the use of a support animal

• Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support

• Allow frequent breaks

For more accommodation ideas on coping with stress, working effectively with a supervisor, interacting with co-workers, muscle tension or fatigue, absenteeism, sleep disturbance, panic attacks, diarrhea/vomiting/nausea, headaches, and transportation issues, visit JAN.



External Links

Job Accommodation Network (JAN) Accommodation Ideas for PTSD

Solutions Digest Supporting Employees with PTSD

National Center for PTSD Resource for Veterans, the General Public, Family & Friends

National Center for PTSD – Women Issues specific to Women

National Institute of Mental Health Facts on PTSD