Working With ADHD? You May Be Eligible For Accommodations
Did you know that workers with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are entitled to workplace protections? Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must not discriminate against individuals with physical and mental disabilities. Upon request, they must provide reasonable accommodations to help employees successfully perform their jobs.
The law prohibits employers from demoting, terminating, or otherwise punishing employees who request accommodations. They are also bound to keep their employees’ medical and psychological information—including ADHD diagnoses, treatment plans, and accommodation requests—strictly confidential.
What does “reasonable accommodations” mean?
Employers must provide accommodations that don’t present an “undue hardship.” The U.S. Department of Labor defines an undue hardship as “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.” Employers are not required to lower their company’s quality or production standards. Nor do they have to provide personal use items (such as hearing aids). They aren’t obligated to suggest accommodations, only to provide them upon request.
Providing closed captioning for a hearing-impaired individual during meetings is a good example of what is considered reasonable accommodations for a physical disability. For conditions classified as mental disabilities, such as ADHD, reasonable accommodations look different. They might include things like a quieter workspace, excusal from long meetings, or access to time management and workflow tools.
Considerations And Tips When Seeking Reasonable Accommodations for ADHD
According to the American Psychological Association, as many as one in three workers struggles with stress and mental health. For people with ADHD and other mental health challenges, problems often arise at work. Despite the ubiquity of these struggles, many people are reluctant to talk about mental health with their employers. If you’re weighing your options for coping with ADHD at work, the three-step process I outline below may be of use:
Step 1. Determine how much you’d like to share, and with who
Consider your relationship with your boss and the culture of the workplace in which you work. If you think opening up about your ADHD to your boss would make you uncomfortable or expose you to unfair treatment, it may not be worth the risk. On the other hand, your boss might appreciate this information and use it to provide you with a more ADHD-friendly work environment. Consider whether the benefits of talking with your boss about your ADHD would outweigh possible downsides, then go with your gut.
You’re not required to share the details of your condition with your boss in order to get accommodations. You can always submit a request directly to human resources, instead. Depending on your needs, it may even be possible to make positive changes without requesting formal accommodations. If you’re not sure you really need ADA accommodations, consider ways of improving your situation that you can implement without help.
Step 2. Focus on how it impacts your work
If you decide to discuss your ADHD with your boss or other supervisor, focus on the professional challenges of working with ADHD. Going into the personal details of your mental health isn’t necessary. It also could expose you to bias or make you appear unprofessional. Instead, focus on what your employer is likely most concerned about: the effects your ADHD is having on your performance.
For example, it may be difficult for you to pay attention during long meetings, especially ones that aren’t completely relevant to your professional duties. As a result, you may miss or forget those details that do matter. If so, communicate that to your boss. And, if relevant, provide an example of a missed deadline or other problem that arose as a result of this challenge.
Step 3. Provide potential solutions
Having lived with ADHD, you are probably in a better position to suggest accommodations. Your boss or your company’s human resources team may be clueless as to what will help. When you come up with potential solutions yourself, your boss or supervisor will appreciate the effort you’re putting into solving your problems. Your proactively will reflect positively on you. Plus, you’ll be more likely to receive accommodations that actually address your unique challenges.
If you need help getting through boring meetings, for example, you might request that a superior or colleague email you a short list of action items after each meeting to ensure nothing is missed. You might even suggest to be excused from meetings where your input is not needed. If you’re still not sure which accommodations might work for you after brainstorming on your own, talk with your therapist. An ADHD specialist like myself can suggest options you haven’t previously considered and help you come up with creative solutions.
Accommodation that can help adults working with ADHD
Every individual has unique needs, so no one solution will work for everyone. That said, accommodations that I have seen work for other adults coping with ADHD at work include the following.
- Time off to attend therapy sessions
- The use of an audio recorder during meetings
- Extensions on non-time sensitive projects
- Management-provided concrete benchmarks for deadline-driven projects
- Permission to use noise-cancelling headphones at your desk
- Access to a “quiet room”, if you typically work in an open plan office
- The opportunity to work a flexible schedule
- Uninterrupted blocks of time when messages and emails may be postponed
- Lists of daily, weekly, and monthly routine tasks
- Ability to take frequent breaks
- The use of an exercise ball chair
Coping with ADHD at work is never easy, but workplace accommodations can make a big difference if you’re living with ADHD. Working with a therapist who specializes in adult ADHD can help you identify coping strategies that work for both you and your employer. Learn about therapy for ADHD, my convenient online therapy service, or contact me for a free 20-minute consultation.
 “Fact Sheet: Disability Descrimination,” n.d.