May was Mental Health Awareness month and the first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week, but mental health is a topic that requires attention all year long as we have seen during these challenging pandemic years. A recent survey conducted by attorneys at Fisher & Phillips LLP indicated that 60% of the respondents are discussing mental health in the workplace. The national average for employers who have seen an increase in mental health related accommodation requests during the pandemic is 43%. Employers who are having open discussion on the topic have experienced a 54% increase in accommodation requests, which is not surprising.
Given our last blog post on supervisory training to upskill your organization, we wanted to provide a follow up blog post that dives into the topic of mental health because it is a human topic and it also crosses over into some very sensitive compliance issues that supervisors need to recognize. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes mental health in the definitions of disabilities. Mental health-related discussions can lead into potential disability discrimination claims if handled incorrectly. As always, we advise that you seek legal advice when appropriate.
According to a recent EEOC report, in the year 2021, 30% of ADA related charges were complaints related to mental disability-based discrimination. Additionally, mental health related challenges appear to be having an impact on retention rates in some industries. Manufacturing employers, for example, have reported an increase in reasonable accommodation requests, including working from home, as well as a significant increase in turnover possibly related to mental health and overall stress levels.
How are employers to deal with challenges stemming from mental health issues, including higher stress levels as we all face inflation and the rising cost of gas and other basic expenses? First and foremost, companies need to have an awareness that mental health issues are rising and that workplaces are impacted. Ending the stigma is an important part of addressing the potential needs. Pretending that mental health and stress are not impacting workers in a mistake that could alienate employees and cause turnover. Make it safe to discuss mental health appropriately in the workplace. Take stalk of the resources you have available to help employees address mental health concerns, such as an EAP as part of the benefits your organization offers. Remember though, that there are privacy issues at play and it is not ok to inquire about the details of an employee’s situation or diagnoses.
As with most compliance-related issues, it is key to provide training to supervisors so that they are well versed in recognizing that there is a potential need to discuss time off or reasonable accommodations. The Personnel Perspective offers a robust multi-part supervisor’s toolkit training program. Included in part 4 of the toolkit, is a module on HR compliance that helps broaden supervisor and manager’s understanding of red flags to watch for when they interact with their direct reports. The module also covers how to engage in the interactive process when dealing with medical issues including mental health. As always, we are here to support businesses in addressing employee leaves of absences, accommodations, and worker’s compensation issues that can be challenging to navigate alone.