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by Vault Careers | March 10, 2009


Dear HR Guy;

I have a new employee who recently told me he suffers from bipolar depression. How much do I need to accommodate an employee who now finds some of his assigned tasks "too stressful"?

Thanks for your help.


Dear Bob:

Bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and other mental illnesses should be treated like any other long-term physical ailment. While these problems aren't going away, they are also eminently treatable. You should find out what kind of treatment your employee is undergoing: psychotherapy, medication, etc. If this new employee is not dealing with the problems, you should encourage him or her to seek medical help. While it is not your job to diagnose and treat the illness, you can encourage treatment. Perhaps the new employee has not sought help because he or she has been without medical insurance. Hopefully, your insurance plan covers mental illness.

If you talk to the employee about the problem, and you are aware of how the illness is being handled, figuring out workplace issues should be easier. The important thing is communication and understanding. People with mental illness are considered to have a disability and are therefore covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You are required to provide "reasonable accommodation" to the employee during treatment. This means that you may have to cut down on workload and duties for a while. The key phrase here is "reasonable". If the depressed worker is in a high stress position, it may not be reasonable to cut out the part of the job that causes tension.

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, see the my column from July, 2000.

Good luck!

HR Guy

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues