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Tips on managing a depressed employee
(The following article is taken from the July Compliance & Culture newsletter of our strategic partner, HR That Works!)

Everyone may at some time experience the blues or feel down and not quite themselves. But when the bad days begin to outnumber the good ones, and an employee begins having attendance and performance issues, then this employee may have depression. Depression is a serious medical condition that affects nearly 15 million adults each year. It is one of the top three workplace issues impacting employers each year and costs businesses $83 billion annually (SAMSHA 2005). The symptoms of depression include:
1. Persistently sad or irritable mood
2. Pronounced changes in sleep, appetite, and energy
3. Difficulty thinking, concentrating, and remembering
4. Physical slowing or agitation
5. Lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
6. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness
7. Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide; and
8. Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain (Source:
Depression is very treatable and over 80% of those diagnosed with it can be successfully rehabilitated with medication and psychotherapy. Diet and exercise can promote a healthy lifestyle to combat the effects of depression. In the workplace, there are many possible accommodations that can be provided to help employees with depression perform their job:

Stamina During the Workday
    • Provide flexible scheduling
    • Allow longer or more frequent work breaks
    • Allow employee to work from home during part of the day, or week
    • Provide part time work schedules

    • Reduce distractions in the work area
    • Provide space enclosures or a private office
    • Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machine
    • Allow the employee to play soothing music using an MP3 player
    • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting
    • Plan for uninterrupted work time and allow for frequent breaks
    • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals
    • Restructure job to include only essential functions

Memory Deficits
    • Allow the employee to tape record meetings and provide written checklists
    • Provide written minutes from meetings
    • Provide written instructions and allow additional training time

Difficulty Staying Organized and Meeting Deadlines:
    • Make daily TO-DO lists and check items off as they are completed
    • Use several calendars to mark meetings and deadlines
    • Remind employee of important deadlines
    • Use electronic organizers
    • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Difficulty Handling Stress and Emotions
    • Provide praise and positive reinforcement
    • Refer to counseling and employee assistance programs
    • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
    • Allow the presence of a support animal
    • Allow the employee to take breaks as needed

Attendance Issues
    • Provide flexible leave for health problems
    • Provide a self-paced workload and flexible hours
    • Allow employee to work from home and provide part-time work schedule
    • Allow employee to make up time
    - Kendra Duckworth, M.S., JAN Lead Consultant

The recent California Supreme Court case of Lonicki v. Sutter Health points out one of the major challenges under the ADA and similar state laws—how do you manage a depressed employee? In this case, a nurse essentially claimed that her job was too stressful. The employer claimed she did not have a medical condition, but rather, the stress that comes with being a nurse. They claimed as evidence of this fact, she was able to work as a nurse in a similar job at another hospital on a part-time basis.

(Note: The California Supreme Court held that working a part-time job while seeking medical leave from a full time job is not conclusive evidence under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) that the employee is able to perform the job from which she seeks leave. The Court also held that the employer’s failure to seek a third opinion regarding the employee’s medical condition did not bar the employer from later claiming that the employee did not suffer from a serious health condition.)

To learn more about accommodating depression, go to