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Mental Health Disabilities Present Unique Challenges for Employers

Mental health issues in the workplace present a much more complicated challenge to business owners than physical disabilities do, because they’re not as clear-cut and they’re less understood. Mental disabilities are typically revealed in unique, hard to understand ways, and often with little predictability.

Absenteeism and Lost Productivity
Workers with self-acknowledged depression reported an average of 27 lost work days during the year from both days off and low productivity while working. 43% of employees with symptoms of major depression said they had not received treatment in the last 12 months, according to a survey performed by the World Health Organization (WHO). This lack of treatment stems from the stigma and fear employees expressed about the possibility of losing their jobs if their condition is known. Although depression is the most common condition, bipolar, anxiety, and attention deficit hyper-activity disorders also reduce productivity to varying degrees.

Typical Ways to Accommodate
Business owners need to keep an open mind and respond in creative ways to accommodate mental health disabilities without compromising job duties or business expectations. Sometimes we see employees request a therapy dog. Doctors may “advise or recommend,” but they typically don’t prescribe therapy dogs. Business owners should consider this solution on a case-by-case basis, provided it won’t impact other employees or the company. Depending on the condition, other solutions may include:
  • Work and break schedules that facilitate therapy appointments
  • Tailored shift assignments 
  • Leaves of absence
  • Work-from-home solutions (on a case-by-case basis, where reasonable)
  • In some cases, quiet office space is needed 
  • Altering supervisory methods, such as written instructions instead of verbal

Employee Privacy
Business owners must take care while discussing accommodations with managers so as not to divulge private information. ADA regulations dictate that medical information can only be shared with:
  • Supervisors can be informed of needed accommodations, without revealing the nature of the condition; supervisors must be cautioned not to ask probing questions of the employee
  • Appropriate staff, should the worker require emergency treatment
  • Government officials investigating compliance

Commit to a Healthy Work Environment
Even with reasonable accommodations and treatment, there are no easy fixes when it comes to mental health conditions in the workplace. That being said, you should attempt to accommodate mental health disabilities in the same good faith as you do physical disabilities.

We have resources to assist you in implementing the best practices for accommodating mental health disabilities. If you need help in choosing your best options or handling difficult situations, please call on us.
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