Employers no longer have the option of ignoring or avoiding the mental health issues of their employees. Today, wise employers are integrating mental health awareness, education and treatment into their company policies to protect the good of the organization and employee health.

Employees with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may attempt to shape this diagnosis into an asset, but the condition will invariably affect their work and personal life over time. By identifying the symptoms of OCD and knowing an employer’s rights and responsibilities, companies can make decisions that benefit all involved.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition marked by distressing and obsessive thoughts and repetitive and compulsive behaviors. A person with OCD will spend so much time involved with the obsessions and compulsions of their disorder that they will be unable to complete their responsibilities at work or home.

According to the DSM-5 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA): 

  • Obsessions are recurrent thoughts, urges and imagines. They are unwanted, intrusive and cause high levels of stress and discomfort. These thoughts frequently involve terrible things happening to the person or their loved ones. Because these thoughts are so uncomfortable, people try to ignore or avoid them by developing unhealthy coping skills — compulsions.
  • Compulsions are certain behaviors or mental acts that a person feels compelled to perform repeatedly. The goal of the compulsions is to prevent or lower the likelihood that the obsessions will occur. Compulsions can be anything from handwashing and light switch-flipping to checking the stove and counting. Sometimes, the compulsions are obvious to observers, while other times, the behaviors are quite covert. In all cases, the compulsions are excessive or not realistic. For example, touching cracks in the sidewalk will have no impact on your mother’s health, regardless of the flawed belief.

In the workplace, people with OCD may be so detail-oriented or distracted by their symptoms that they find it impossible to complete anything with high quality or in a timely way. With 1 in 40 adults having the condition, OCD will affect many workplaces. 

Employers may believe they never need to know the laws and regulations governing mental health disabilities, but they do. The risks of being unaware are simply too great to the individual and the company. To reduce risks, employers should remain up-to-date with all legal issues and expectations.

Becoming familiar with employment laws involving disability and discrimination is key. Some of the most relevant laws include: 

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): a law providing equal opportunities for all people in the workplace, regardless of disability or limitation.
  • The Rehabilitation Act: a law creating a resource of funds for disability-related expenses in the workplace.
  • Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA): a law that aims to provide employment and work-related training programs for those in need.

These laws help support and protect people with medical and mental health disabilities. This way, people with OCD can receive the patience and services needed to maintain their employment and status as contributing members of society.

Supporting Remote Workers

Individuals and businesses have shifted tremendously during the coronavirus pandemic, and the move to remote work is not always comfortable or helpful for people with OCD. As an employer, it may be easy to only focus on performance without truly assisting remote workers.

To fully support people with OCD working remote, employers can:

  • Check-in with their experience. Working remotely is not a universal experience. Depending on the workspace, childcare, motivation and distraction around the employee, the process could be positive for some and very negative for others.
  • Shift forms of communication. Office communication usually involves memos, emails and dropping in for a face-to-face meeting. The separation of working from home can feel isolating. Adopting a new and more casual form of communication could help gain needed insights into the employee’s needs and experience.
  • Boost flexibility. Whether the flexibility is linked to deadlines, schedules, dress code or other work experiences, permit the employee some freedom to arrive at a suitable schedule. If they flourish with this freedom, let it continue; if they begin to struggle, reel it back in. This flexibility must be individualized.
  • Focus on self-care. Without seeing the employee daily, it can be impossible to assess their status. Encourage them to monitor their needs and stress levels. If stress grows, suggest some simple self-care techniques like journaling, exercising or relaxation techniques. Be careful not to overstep your bounds while showing care and support. 
  • Adjust their feedback. Remote workers may need more frequent reviews and feedback to track their progress and performance. When working from home, falling into bad habits and falling behind on assignments is easy. More frequent reviews may seem like more work, but it saves the employee and employer time and stress in the long term.

Supporting a remote employee, especially one with OCD, must be an individualized experience. What works for one will not work for all.

Supporting Employees in the Office

The choice to disclose a mental health condition to the company is the employee’s decision, but should that disclosure happen, it is the employer’s duty to make reasonable accommodations. For the best adaptations, decide to work together and experiment with solutions before making any permanent. Focus on flexibility and fluidity.

Some possible ways to support employees with OCD in the office include:

  • Ensuring that modifications are not reinforcing OCD. Assuming that the employee has disclosed their condition, one of the most helpful tactics could be speaking with their treatment team. Scheduling a phone call or meeting with their therapist or psychiatrist can ensure that whatever adjustments you put in place are helping their condition rather than worsening it. This strategy helps to decrease the pressure on the employee and the employer by leaving the tough decisions to the professionals.
  • Changing their schedule, including breaks. A simple and effective way to support an employee with OCD centers around flexibility of time. If they need to come in a few minutes late one day, stay late the next, take an extra break in the afternoon, or take an hour off Thursdays to see their therapist, permit these changes. Small adjustments one day could result in greater productivity the next. 
  • Modifying their workspace. Offices and workspaces should be a place to focus and complete great amounts of work, but changing their space could help if your employee is struggling. Reducing distractions, adding more privacy, allowing headphones or changing their work location could all result in a happier and more productive worker.
  • Limiting perfectionism. OCD will not affect all people in the same way, but perfectionism will be an unwanted outcome for some. As an employer, working with the employee and their supervisor to establish a time and place to end work on a project could be essential. Left to their own devices, the worker with OCD may never feel comfortable with the quality of their work, so other opinions are needed.
  • Exploring the benefits of a team approach. People with OCD may thrive in an isolated work environment, while many others will respond positively to a group. Teamwork can help the worker rely on peers’ support and encouragement to guide their decision-making and judgment. 

Even though these modifications may seem like special privileges, they are only what the employee needs to complete their job effectively. Nothing about a ramp would seem excessive for a person in a wheelchair, so be sure to fully invest in the employee’s needs.

Company Resources

The experts at Orlando Recovery Center know that workers with mental health disabilities are affecting your workplace, and we want to help. We can offer more information about OCD and specialized assistance for employers hoping to build a more inclusive atmosphere. 

If you or an employee is struggling with OCD in addition to a substance use disorder, comprehensive treatment options are available at the Orlando Recovery Center. No one needs to suffer from addiction and OCD one day longer. Contact us today to discuss options that can work well for your needs. 

Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013. Accessed March 20, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Employees: How to Cope with Job Stress a[…]he COVID-19 Pandemic.” December 23, 2020. Assessed March 20, 2021.

U.S. Department of Labor. “Accommodations for Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities.” Accessed March 20, 2021.

U.S. Department of Labor. “Employment Laws: Disability and Discrimination.” Accessed March 20, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.