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Tips for Handling Requests for Mental Health Accommodation. Are Your Supervisors Ready for This?

You may think your supervisors and managers are ready for mental health accommodation requests, but now is the time to make sure they're truly up to the task.  

If you think about what happens every day inside your organization, then you know that managers and supervisors are the first to receive accommodation requests. After all, much of their job requires face-to-face contact with those employees they lead. Ultimately, their response is critical. They set the tone for inclusivity towards mental health conditions and compliance with the ADA in your workplace. Since there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding mental health, many employees with mental health issues continue to find it difficult to disclose their conditions to their employers. As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, 42 percent of employees have been diagnosed with some form of mental health disorder, and 63 percent of those employees affected have not disclosed it to their employer. Overall, 78 percent of employees reported that they have grappled with an issue that affected their mental health at one time or another.A 2019 research report by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics finds that 20 percent of employees left their positions voluntarily. More startling is that voluntary resignations for mental health reasons more than doubled among Millennials and tripled for Gen Z employees, 50 percent and 75 percent, respectively. At these high percentages, it's become a very expensive problem for business owners costing the U.S. economy $210 billion a year in lost productivity and work absences.

Many supervisors and managers may believe that an employee's mental health issue is none of their concern. But the fact remains that acceptance is becoming commonplace. Topics like depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, and post-traumatic stress syndrome were once considered taboo subjects. Subjects once considered too illicit to discuss in public, let alone acknowledge in the workplace. Now, our everyday conversations on social media platforms and TV bring much-needed awareness and attention to these issues. To dispel and combat the myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health conditions, the ADA National Network has fact sheets available to download.

As discussion, awareness, and inclusivity regarding mental illness in the workplace become the norm, business owners and supervisors must realize they have to be legally compliant with ADA and provide practical considerations to mental health accommodations requests as it occurs.

What Business Owners Need to Do to Stay Compliant with Mental Health Accommodation Requests according to the ADA

It's time to realize that the ADA protects employees with mental health issues just as it would employees with physical disabilities. The only two requirements are that the employee is not hindered from performing the job's essential functions and that any requested accommodation by the employee does not impose undue burdens on the employer. The ADA prohibits employers from taking adverse action like termination or demotion against employees who come forward. First, the employer needs to engage employees in conversation to understand how the disability or condition affects their workplace performance. The ADA refers to this as the interactive process.

To fully understand the nature of an employee's condition, how an employee's request for accommodation might lessen their limitations on the job, and which accommodation might align with the employee's mental health condition, employers can request information.  Requests for information can be made to the employee's physician, psychiatrist, or behavioral health provider as to how the disability might affect their performance.

Other ways business owners can stay compliant with ADA include:

  • Training HR staff, managers, and supervisors on how to listen for informal requests for reasonable accommodation on the basis of a mental health disorder or condition. Make sure they know how to address the request for mental health accommodations with employees.  Also, ensure that they understand that providing reasonable accommodation costs the company little while remaining compliant with federal law.

  • Allowing the employee making the request to provide a list of reasonable accommodations that could permit him or her to perform their job.

  • Enlisting the help of a lawyer through the "interactive discussion phase" when determining reasonable accommodation with the employee.

  • Allowing for an independent evaluation of whether an employee with a mental health condition can perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Consider recommendations provided by the employee's health care provider, physician, or psychiatrist.

  • Establishing a neutral process by which accommodation requests are evaluated to determine whether they cause undue hardship to your business. If it is determined that the accommodation is a hardship, document substantially the reasons why. Any provided documentation can mitigate your risk should the employee decide to file a charge of discrimination against your company.

  • Using JAN or the Job Accommodation Network for a comprehensive list of accommodations for employees who suffer mental health conditions. Some of the accommodations listed include backup coverage for when an employee needs a break, telework, time off for counseling, and flexible scheduling.

  • Establishing a neutral process by which accommodations are evaluated to determine whether they create a possible safety hazard to the employee, other employees, or third parties.

  • Follow-up with accommodations and communicating with the employees involved to determine whether the accommodation is effective.