Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that occurs in response to witnessing, experiencing or participating in a traumatic event. PTSD is often associated with war, but it can occur in response to any extreme event. Rape, murder of a loved one, plane crashes, natural disasters, terrorist attacks like 9/11 -- all are the type of experiences that can trigger PTSD. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, close to 8 million Americans suffer from PTSD every year.
PTSD and the Workplace
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The symptoms of PTSD -- flashbacks, phobic reactions to places and/or situations that trigger memories of the traumatic event, irritation and anger as well as depression and anxiety -- can intrude into the workplace. But this is no different from the potential problems associated with any physical disability or medical condition -- high blood pressure, asthma or diabetes, for example. Employers cannot fire you, refuse to hire you, or discriminate against you simply because you have PTSD.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
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If you have PTSD, your workplace rights are protected under several federal laws. The ADA, for example, stipulates that employers must accommodate the reasonable needs of employees with PTSD and other disabilities. For PTSD specifically, these needs might include working different hours, taking more breaks or being able to bring a service animal to work.
The Family Medical Leave Act
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The FMLA allows workers to take unpaid time off from work to handle a wide range of medical and family situations. Under this law, you have the right to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave per year without fear of losing your job. If you have PTSD, you can use this time to keep medical appointments, to take time away from work if you are in a crisis, or to help a family member with PTSD.
Veterans With PTSD
If you have PTSD as a result of combat experiences during military service, your workplace rights are protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. USERRA bars employers from discriminating against veterans in hiring and rehiring practices, whether or not you have a disability. If you do have a disability, civilian employers must reasonably accommodate it, similar to the ADA. If you are a veteran, your employer must return you to the position you would have held had you not gone into the military. If your disability makes that impossible, then the employer must make "reasonable efforts" to place you or train you to be placed in an equivalent position in terms of "seniority, status and pay."
Kathy Kattenburg has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her articles have been published in "N.J. Jewish News" and "Suburban Essex," and she is a contributing writer and full partner at Not the Singularity. Kattenburg has a BA in English literature from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.