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Wednesday, 29 June 2016 11:56

Mental Health Compliance in the Workplace

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Last month we wrote about mental health awareness in the workplace. This month we’d like to bring your attention to compliance surrounding mental health issues, and how not following proper procedure could cost your company profoundly.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with mental and emotional impairments in companies with at least 15 employees. But how do you know if the ADA rules apply to the situation at hand? If a mental health impairment is brought to your attention, what do you need to do?
Basically, if an employee requests some sort of accommodation due to a physical or mental health condition, and they desire to keep working, you should follow the ADA guidelines. The key rule for employers to remember is that they have “a legal duty to reasonably accommodate a known mental or emotional impairment of an applicant or employee, unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the employer.”  Not following that basic principle could land an employer in court, and several lawsuits have already awarded employees millions of dollars.  Not only do you face the risk of a legal battle, but there is also a financial impact to your bottom line if an employee is struggling with their job duties and their productivity is lessened as a result.

Here are the links to several court cases:

Ekstand v. School District of Somerset
Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts 

Some of the more common covered mental health impairments under the ADA include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), ADHD, bipolar disorder, head trauma causing cognitive difficulties, and treatment for alcoholism/substance abuse. If an employer is asked for assistance due to a mental health issue, they should act fast and initiate communication with the employee to determine reasonable accommodations that will still allow them to perform their job functions. So what is a “reasonable accommodation?”
First, review the employee’s written job description and essential functions of the position. Determine the time spent on each duty, and the consequences of not requiring the employee to perform that function. It may be simple to reassign functions that cannot be easily accommodated. Be creative and collaborative with the employee about how they can continue to perform their job functions with accommodation.
Some ideas of how to provide adequate accommodation:
  • Flexible work arrangements, including allowing time off for therapy appointments and treatment, allowing work from home or different hours of the work day, or a modified break schedule
  • Job restructuring, where difficult tasks are removed or diminished as a function of that position
  • Alteration of working environment, such as providing a quiet space or room barriers
  • Provide the employee a job coach or a mentor who is fully supportive of the necessary accommodations
  • Providing memory aids, task lists, or other tools that will help the employee perform their duties
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks
  • Reassign the employee to a vacant position
What is considered an “undue hardship” on the company? The ADA defines this as a “significant difficulty or expense in light of the nature and cost of the accommodation, the resources of the entity, and the type of operation of the entity.” In a court case, it would be up to the employer to prove that this would occur, so be prepared to confirm that statement.
Lastly, remember that mental and emotional health issues should be treated the same as any other physical condition. Don’t make the mistake of looking at mental health problems as job performance issues, but rather health issues that should be accommodated if possible. You have an obligation to your employees to help them get treatment, with the goal of returning back to full productivity.
Read 1728 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 June 2016 12:18
Tonya Young

Tonya is our Senior Account Manager and brings eleven years of prior insurance company expertise to Fall River, having worked at Anthem Blue Cross and Great-West Healthcare (now part of CIGNA). Tonya holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Texas A&M University. Originally from Minnesota, she loves the Colorado outdoors and enjoys family time with her young daughter.