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May 28, 2014
by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW

Adult ADHD: Workplace Issues

May 28, 2014 04:55 by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW  [About the Author]

In Adult ADHD on the College Campus we explored some of the challenges adults face that may change how their ADHD symptoms manifest. These include less structure, more choices and variables and less stimulating tasks. The change in family support and accountability also plays a big part in this.

Many find that changing jobs, even within the same company, can greatly impact their symptoms. This generally relates to new job responsibilities that require different skills and abilities, or changes in the structure of the work. Anything that requires more (or different) planning, prioritizing, time management and concentration on routine tasks could create a change in ADHD symptoms. Other external factors like stress, work relationships, being micro-managed and distractions in your work environment could also create problems on the job.

Getting Your Executive Functions to Work for You

You might recall from Adult ADHD: The Big Picture that one of the main problems for those with ADHD is poor executive functioning. The executive functions determine how well we can:

·         Remember things

·         Plan and prioritize

·         Manage time

·         Focus and concentrate

·         Modulate our emotions

·         Control our impulses 

·         Learn from the consequences of our actions

As you can imagine, these are all skills that are necessary to be successful in most jobs. Choosing the right job for you based on your skills and abilities is the key to being successful at work. Ned Hallowell, a medical doctor who also has ADHD, says choosing the right spouse is the other key to living successfully with ADHD as an adult!

If you find that your ADHD is negatively affecting your work performance, you might need to consider seeing a medical provider who specializes in mental health. An ADHD coach or therapist can help you assess your needs and develop strategies to manage them.

You might want to consider seeing a psychiatrist for a medication consultation. If you prefer not to take psychotropic medication, an appointment with a naturopath, functional or integrated medicine practitioner might be more appropriate. Diet and exercise play a critical role in managing adult ADHD. See Adult ADHD: On the College Campus for more details about self care.

Protecting Your Rights at Work

Many people consider adult ADHD annoying, inconvenient and, at times, embarrassing. However, if the symptoms begin to threaten your livelihood by causing problems for you at work, things become more serious. Many competent and intelligent individuals have difficulty in the workplace because of ADHD. Among the problems reported are: problems keeping up with paperwork, meeting deadlines, managing projects, interpersonal relations, disorganization, clutter, planning and organizing, prioritizing, distractions and concentration problems.

If your ability to do your work is impeded because of ADHD, and your efforts to help yourself (coaching, therapy, medication or integrated medical care) have not resulted in improvements on the job, you might consider asking your employer for reasonable accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act provides legal protections for people with ADHD if their symptoms are severe enough to meet the general criteria for a disability.

“A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. To be a disability covered by the ADA, the impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. An average person can perform these activities with little or no difficulty.” (EEOC, 1992) 

Under these guidelines, some people with ADHD will meet the criteria, but not everyone. There is not a list of disabilities that qualify for legal protection. Each case is tried on its own merits. The courts have ruled that ADHD was disabling in some cases on record, as it caused cognitive impairment.

Going on record as having a disability is a big decision. For those in the workplace, it may be best to describe specific symptoms and explain what changes could be made to improve your productivity and performance. For example, if you sit near the copier and find the traffic distracting, you might ask to move to a more secluded area with fewer distractions. You can do this without mentioning ADHD. You would ask your supervisor about this initially. If you do not get assistance, talk to someone in HR.

If you are making mistakes, missing deadlines, losing important papers and late to work or meetings, you will probably need to go on record about having ADHD. Unless you tell your supervisor or someone in HR about the problems and ask them to work with you to make reasonable accommodations, your job will not be protected under the ADA. Begin by talking to your supervisor or manager. Ask for a meeting or plan to discuss this during supervision - the conversation needs to be on record, so to speak, rather than walking down the hall.

Where to Get Help with Reasonable Accommodations

It is helpful to give your supervisor or manager printed information about ADHD, preferably from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) website. JAN works with employers and persons with disabilities to find solutions and reasonable accommodations for their specific limitations at work.

If you find your employer is resistant to making accommodations, call JAN for advice. This happens at times, especially with 'invisible conditions' that are not evidenced physically. There is no list of qualifying disabilities under the ADA, and ADHD is not always accepted as a 'real' disability. Each case requesting accommodations under the ADA is decided on its own merits. The qualifying factor is whether your symptoms impair your ability to perform activities of daily living. Read more to find out how ADHD may show up at work, and what possible accommodations are available.

Also remember, employers with fewer than 15 employees do not have to adhere to the ADA. Likewise, accommodation requests must be reasonable and cause no undue hardship for the company or organization. Moving to a different desk is probably a reasonable request. Asking to move to the corner office next to the CEO may not work.

Find out more about secondary issues related to ADHD in Adult ADHD: Emotional Regulation and Other Soft Signs and Adult ADHD: Self Care, Management and Treatment Recommendations.


"Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." Accommodation Ideas. Job Accommodation Network. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.

"Disability Discrimination." Disability Discrimination. US EEOC. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.

Pierce, LuAnn. Facing the Giant: ADHD in the Workplace. Rep. Print.

About the Author

LuAnn Pierce, LCSW LuAnn Pierce, LCSW

I am a clinical social worker, therapist and writer. Currently, I offer online therapy and coaching services to people in Colorado and Wyoming. As a provider for the CO Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and the National MS Society, my expertise in counseling people who have disabilities and chronic illness is considerable. I have written for,,,, and contribute to several other online health and mental health sites.

Office Location:
19th & Dahlia
Denver, Colorado
United States
Phone: 303-910-2425
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