Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace
Director of Compliance
Mental illnesses and disabilities are quite common, though they are not always obvious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder during their lifetimes, and one in five will experience a mental illness each year. Given anxiety stemming from ongoing global health concerns and economic uncertainties in the United States (and worldwide), employee mental health issues will remain a concern for employers in 2023.
There are numerous workplace laws and rules employers should know about that grant rights to employees with mental health conditions. Here are a few of the most notable requirements:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) – Under the federal ADA, employees are protected against disability discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Employees with disabilities are also entitled to workplace accommodations that will help them perform their jobs, unless providing such would cause the employer undue hardship. Examples of potential reasonable accommodations for employees with mental disabilities include a leave of absence, permission to work remotely, flexible scheduling, a quiet office space, a shift change, or approval to bring a pet to work.
- Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) – The federal FMLA provides up to 12 weeks per year of job-protected leave to address serious health conditions. Eligible employees may take FMLA leave for their own serious health condition or to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. A serious health condition can include mental illnesses, disorders, and disabilities.
- State laws – Many states have enacted medical leave and disability legislation that protects employees with mental health conditions. These state laws often function similarly to the FMLA and ADA, including the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations, but may also provide greater protections than their federal law counterparts (e.g., additional leave time).
- Predictive scheduling laws – Predictive scheduling laws require employers to give employees sufficient notice of their work schedules so they can plan around their working hours. This type of legislation greatly benefits employees with mental health conditions, who may need to schedule and attend recurring doctor appointments.
- Company policies and agreements – Due to COVID-19, many employers in 2021 and 2022 began offering mental health days and other benefits to employees to help with anxiety and other mental health conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. Such policies are a good way to promote the importance of mental health awareness in the workplace while assisting employees in creating a better work/life balance.
In addition to complying with workplace laws that protect and assist employees, employers should take additional steps to support employees’ mental health in any way that will fit within their business plan. By creating a work environment supportive of mental health, employers can boost employee morale and overall health, which is essential to any successful organization. Addressing mental health in the workplace is no longer just a nice thing to do but a necessity for businesses to remain compliant and prosper.
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