If your answer is anything other than “yes, absolutely,” we should really talk.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects qualified employees with mental health impairments the same as it does employees with physical disabilities—as long as the employee can perform the essential functions of the job and the accommodation does not impose an undue burden on the employer, of course.

Aside from legal compliance, why must employers learn to recognize requests for accommodations for mental health conditions? Employers may very well think it’s none of their business.

After all, traditionally, depression wasn’t discussed in the workplace. Heck it wasn’t even discussed at home! Anxiety wasn’t addressed.

Post-traumatic stress syndrome was not water cooler conversation, and certainly bipolar disorder was something an employee kept well-hidden, if said employee had a diagnosis at all.

Not so much anymore.

As more employees are talking (and posting on social media) about their mental health conditions at work, employers must be aware of their legal obligations and practical considerations if they ignore employee requests.

Mental health conditions like OCD, anxiety, and depression are ubiquitous in the workplace.

One recent poll, discussed here, reports that 78% of employees say they have struggled with at least one issues that has affected their mental health, while 42% have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

A whopping 63% of employees report that they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder but not reported it to their employer.

In fact, recent research by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics uncovered that more than three out of every five participants said their mental health impacted their productivity and more than a third thought work contributed to their symptoms.

That’s a lot!

Employees seem less willing to tolerate this situation. According to this article, 20% of employees voluntarily left roles in the past for mental health reasons, but that number increases to 50% for millennials and 75% for a Gen Z employee.

What Can Employers Do? What Should They Do?

First, companies should remember that the ADA prohibits employers from taking an adverse action (e.g., demotion, termination, etc.) against employees with mental health impairments as long as they can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation—as long as doing so does not impose an “undue burden” on the employer.

To comply with the ADA, an employer must engage in the interactive process to gain an understanding of how the disability affects the employee’s ability to do the job.

An employer can and should request information, including regarding the functional limitations caused by the disability, from an employee’s medical and/or psychiatric or other behavioral health provider so as to comprehend the nature of the employee’s difficulties, how an accommodation could alleviate an employee’s limitations, and which accommodations may be appropriate.

What else helps?

  • Training. Provide real, interactive training to your managers, HR, and C-suite to recognize requests for accommodations for mental health disorders and to educate them that that providing accommodations to qualified employees with a disability complies with federal law and costs the company relatively little, if anything.
  • Determine whether or not an employee requires an accommodation. Actually talk to the employee about this. We call this “engaging in an interactive discussion.” Should you consult a lawyer for this discussion? Sure, absolutely, never hurts.
  • Obtain from your employee or his or her doctor an understanding of how the disability affects the employee’s ability to do the job.
  • Provide the accommodation. JAN provides an extensive list of accommodations for employees who suffer with mental health disorders including ones like flexible scheduling, additional time to learn new tasks, time off for counseling, frequent breaks, and backup coverage for when the employee needs breaks, and telework.
  • Document substantially a determination not to provide an accommodation because of an undue burden. This will mitigate a company’s risk in case the employee files a charge of discrimination or a lawsuit.

Tell me, what is your business doing to accommodate employees’ mental health issues?