Accomodations for SAD

Posted January 29, 2016 by Mary McGinley

When the weather turns cold and the snow flies, many people are excited by the crisp cold in the winter air. For some people, however, winter can mean a great deal of agitation, listlessness and even depression if they suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

While some may assign such behavior as a person merely having a case of the post-holiday blues, the Mayo Clinic has classified SAD as a type of depression and the American Psychological Association says that it is a serious medical condition that is in direct relation to a shortage of sunlight. Because of this, the disorder is recognized as a disability and employers may need to accommodate those employees who are affected by the disorder or face potential legal consequences for failing to do so.

Researchers say that those affected by SAD are generally between the ages of 18 and 30, with women being four times more likely than men to face challenges of the disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), indicates that between 4 to 10 percent of the U.S. population, or up to as much as 20 percent of people in the United States may have at least some issues surrounding the disorder.

Keeping on the right side of the law regarding SAD

Employers who ignored the issue have found themselves named as plaintiffs in lawsuits from employees affected by the disorder. In 2010, a Wisconsin teacher sued the school district where she worked for over $2 million because they would not make accommodations for her and she suffered a nervous breakdown after district officials would not allow her exchange classrooms – even when a fellow teacher offered to trade.

A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its findings that it was of “little hardship” if they had provided the teacher with a classroom that would have met her needs in dealing with SAD.

How to Help an Employee with SAD

Because SAD is believed to be due to a brain chemical imbalance of both melatonin and serotonin, caused by reduced sunlight during winter, there are a few ways to address the imbalance.

One way that experts have suggested is not only through the use of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, but also through the use of light therapy. Experts suggest that an average exposure of 30 minutes to a light box that emulates sunlight can be helpful to those suffering from SAD.

Other ways to help employees who may be suffering from SAD are to put the employee in an area with more exposure to daylight, change their work schedule or allow them to take more or longer breaks outside, or allowing the employee to take leave in order to be treated for their condition.

It can be difficult for employers to determine the presence of the disability of SAD because often the symptoms are not obvious. Some employers will want to have the documentation on file of the disorder by a physician. If such documentation is given, however, then legally an employer must then make reasonable accommodations for that worker under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The best policy is to talk with the employee or even if their physician for suggestions on how to help. If the condition is considered to be serious enough, legally an employee can take up to 12 weeks of leave according to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The time can be used either all at once or intermittently, depending on what the recommendation of the physician is. At the end of the leave of 12 weeks, that employee is legally entitled to be reinstated to the same position or an equivalent one.

Does your company have questions about accommodating employees with SAD or any other kind of disability? At EinsteinHR, we can give you straight answers and help you stay in compliance with the ADA with solutions that best serve you and your employees. Contact us today at 770-962-1700 to find out how we can help.