Got SAD employees?

01/24/2024

Don’t forget FMLA or ADA obligations

Feeling sad is an emotion. Having SAD means struggling with a mental illness known as seasonal affective disorder. With colder weather and diminished daylight, winter can be a difficult time of year for many employees. For those with SAD, it can be especially challenging.

SAD is a type of depression that is worsened by overcast skies and poor indoor lighting. Common symptoms according to the National Institute of Mental Health include oversleeping, fatigue, feeling lethargic, irritability, stress intolerance, and lack of interest in daily activities.

Employee leave and work accommodations

If the symptoms of SAD are interfering with an employee's ability to work, they might need to take some time off, which could fall under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Another possibility is a reasonable accommodation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A workplace accommodation might help someone experiencing SAD, thus allowing them to stay at work. Ideas could include providing an employee with:

  • Sun-simulating lights,
  • Anti-fatigue ergonomic equipment,
  • Apps for concentration and/or fatigue,
  • White noise,
  • Alternative communication methods,
  • Remote work, and
  • Flexible scheduling.

This is just a sampling of possible accommodations for employers and employees to consider. There is no "one-size-fits-all" solution when it comes to workplace accommodations. It must be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Not all employees with SAD will need accommodations to perform their jobs, and many others might need only one or a few accommodations to ease their symptoms.

ADA interactive process

When an employee requests a workplace change due to a medical condition, employers are to talk to the employee, with a focus on finding an effective reasonable accommodation. This is called the "interactive process" under the ADA. The goal is to find a way to eliminate or reduce the barrier(s) between an employee's limitation and a job's essential functions.

Of course, SAD is just one example of a mental health condition employees may experience. Employers should take steps to foster a mental health-friendly workplace all year.

Key to Remember: Employers with employees experiencing SAD might need to allow time off under the FMLA or supply an accommodation to help employees continue to perform their job's essential functions.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.

The J. J. Keller FMLA Manager service is your business resource for tracking employee leave and ensuring compliance with the latest Federal and State FMLA requirements.