Four Tips for Accommodating Mental Health Diagnoses in the Workplace

By: Jacqueline Houser

Mental health has traditionally been stigmatized more than physical ailments or disabilities. However, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the stigma surrounding mental health is lessening. Discussions surrounding mental health in the workplace have recently become more commonplace, as employees in all industries have struggled with an increase in mental health issues. As a result, employers are seeing an increase in mental health diagnosis disclosures and accommodation requests.

Below are four tips/best practices for employers to keep in mind when an employee discloses a mental health diagnosis:

1. Treat mental health conditions the same as physical disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes “mental impairments” in its definition of disability. While not all mental health conditions are considered disabilities, as long as the condition “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” it will be classified as a disability under the ADA. The ADA also protects individuals with a history of a mental health diagnoses and those who are regarded as having a disability.

The first thing to remember is to treat an employee who discloses a mental health diagnosis the same as an employee who discloses a physical disability. Mental health diagnoses should not be singled out for extra scrutiny. For example, an employer should not require a doctor’s note for mental health conditions if it does not require a doctor’s note for physical conditions.

2. Think outside the box.

When engaging in the interactive process with an employee who has a mental health diagnosis that qualifies as a disability, an employer should think of creative reasonable accommodations wherever possible. Possible accommodations may include: more frequent or longer breaks; a quieter work environment; a work-from-home arrangement; more frequent reminders of tasks or deadlines; removing marginal functions; and flexible work schedules to allow for appointments.

3. Accommodating a mental health diagnosis does have limits.

Accommodations for mental health conditions, just like with physical disabilities, should not do away with essential job functions. Employers do not (generally) need to allow employee outbursts in violation of workplace policies, nor do they need to require other employees to work harder because of another employee’s disability, monitor an employee’s medication, or provide a completely stress-free environment. Employers should also hold all employees to the same conduct or safety standards, regardless of disability, when those standards are job-related.

4. Review accommodation and anti-harassment policies.

Finally, employers should review their current accommodation and anti-harassment policies to ensure they are updated to include mental health diagnoses. When reviewing a handbook or policies and procedures, an employer should also consider whether any additional training is needed for managers and human resources personnel regarding fostering a stigma-free workplace. This can include additional training on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, and steps for assessing situations where employees may need help.

For more information on accommodating mental health diagnoses in the workplace, contact the author of this post or visit our Labor & Employment Practice page to find an attorney in your area. You can also subscribe to this blog to receive email alerts when new posts go up.

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