HR Training Encourages Managers to Question Whether Employees Are Faking Stress Disorders

An online professional training company is raising eyebrows for a class they’re offering employers, on discerning whether workers with certain stress-related diagnoses are telling the truth.

Florida-based company Aurora Training Advantage is hosting a webinar on Oct. 17 that encourages managers to be suspicious if workers claim to be stressed out, have anxiety or have PTSD—in case they’re making it all up.

The language on Aurora’s site and Eventbrite describing the The Anxiety, Stress and PTSD Under the ADA training insinuates that workers might exaggerate or fabricate their stress to get work accommodations. “Mental disabilities are probably one of the most difficult to address because the diagnosis is usually made based on what your employee tells the psychiatrist that he or she is feeling,” the invite reads. “Since everyone has access to the Internet, an employee who wants to abuse the system can simply get on the Internet, find the ‘buzz words,’ and get a psychiatrist to say that the anxiety or stress is now affecting a major life activity.”

The webinar description continues by saying there’s been a growing trend to misdiagnose PTSD. “PTSD is usually reserved for a situation in which someone feels their life is in danger, but some psychiatrists are now diagnosing victims of workplace harassment with PTSD.” (The nerve.) The description continues: “How do you distinguish between reality and fiction?”

If you’re willing to pay $219 for a recording of a webinar, you can learn how. But if you want to attend live, that’ll run you $298. The training is recognized by, and offers 1.5 credit hours from, two major global HR organizations—the Human Resource Certification Institute, “a global provider of advanced credentials for HR professionals” and the Society for Human Resource Management, the “world’s largest HR membership organization comprising professionals at all career levels” according to iHireHR.

The training’s guest speaker, Susan Desmond, is a principal with Jackson Lewis PC, is “listed in Best Lawyers in America for labor and employment law and has been named by Chambers USA as one of America’s leading business lawyers,” according to the Aurora Training Advantage website. Aurora Training Advantage’s owner, Isaac Freeman, wrote in the about section of his LinkedIn profile: “Working my way into a golf related career. It is time to start living my dreams!”

Working Mother has reached out to Aurora Training Advantage and SHRM for comment and will update this story if we hear back.

In the meantime, we want readers to know that addressing and seeking help for a stress disorder is challenging, and not something many workers feel comfortable sharing with their employers in the first place—about 47 percent of employees with invisible disabilities, such as mental health issues, do not disclose to their employers, according to research from the Working Mother Research Institute. We can’t help but think that teaching managers to question if their employees are faking their stress disorders will make employees with actual stress, anxiety and PTSD feel even worse, and perhaps prevent them from getting the help they need. Even if some employees “fake” their stress, getting training on helping employees who disclose disabilities should be more of a focus than creating a whole event around spotting liars.

According to Adam Brown, Esq., an attorney and the executive director at the Disability Services & Legal Center in Santa Rosa, CA, there doesn’t seem to be much value to the course. “The employer will likely only gain added suspicion of employees requesting disability-related accommodations. And to what end? Is the employer going to confront said employees about not seeming disabled-enough? Such conduct would surely result in actionable claims of discrimination,” he told Working Mother. “Faking a disability is a big deal. If the employer believes that their employee is capable of such an action, there are probably bigger issues going on.”

Brown also added that under the ADA, the “employer is simply required to provide reasonable accommodations to the employee with a disability,” but that those “could not place an undue financial burden on the employer, fundamentally alter the nature of the workplace and the employee would still have to perform the essential functions of the job.”

Based on the description, the event seems like it doesn’t address the larger problem: that many employees are, indeed, burning out and are stressed out because they’re overworked or their workplaces are toxic. Rather than teaching managers to view workers with stress disorders skeptically, they should be teaching managers about how to improve the workplace for all employees—especially the most vulnerable.

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