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For employees who are wondering what would happen or new HR Professionals that need to understand and put together policies about your team’s mental health issues, read on to learn more about mental health in the workplace.
Like physical health issues, mental health issues can affect performance, productivity, and relationships at work. If mental health issues make it difficult or impossible for one to work, employers can dismiss employees. However, your employer will need to follow the right and fair procedure. Here is some information about that process.
Mental Health and Employee Rights
Mental health symptoms and diagnoses are unique to everyone and may not necessarily affect everyone’s work in the same way. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that a person diagnosed with a mental health condition or physical disability that substantially limits their body function or major life activities is eligible for benefits and protection against discrimination at the workplace. Some mental health conditions affecting employees that are almost always viewed by the ADA as disabling include Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia.
You have the right to keep your mental health issues private as an employee. However, there are situations when you may need to disclose it to your employer. Some of these situations include:
- When you are asking for a reasonable accommodation
- When you get a job offer but need to get a psychological assessment as a pre-employment procedure
- When you intend to make yourself eligible for various company considerations under the Family and Medical Leave Act or any other healthcare benefits
- When your employer shows concern that you are not performing your duties well or as assigned
If you decide to share your diagnosis with your employer, you have a right to fair treatment and non-discrimination. It is also important for your employer to maintain confidentiality and not use the information as grounds to fire you.
Employers may adjust the work environment to enable people with disabilities to perform essential job functions. These adjustments also come with an assurance that if you have any disabilities, your rights and privileges are equal to those without disabilities.
Employers may make reasonable accommodations that do not place an undue hardship on their business or operations. Some of the reasonable accommodation adjustments that employers may offer for those with mental health issues include:
- Flexible work hours and scheduling accommodations
- Time off to attend your therapy or related medical sessions
- A work location that minimizes triggers of symptoms
Reasonable accommodation options and access may vary depending on your symptoms, diagnosis, particular needs, and your specific workplace setting.
Contrary to what most people may think, requesting reasonable accommodation is simple. The first step is to let your employer or HR personnel know that you are requesting changes at work for health-related reasons. This is different and carries more weight than an informal conversation letting your boss know about personal issues affecting your work. You can do this on your own (or in some settings through your representative) without the need to mention ADA or the words “reasonable accommodation.” Bear in mind that a small number of U.S. employees are not covered by the ADA.
According to the National Network, a request for reasonable accommodation does not have to be in written form. It can just as well be through a face-to-face conversation. In this case, your employer may write a letter or memo to confirm your application. In such an event, your employer or HR representative may ask you to fill out a form or put the request in writing for future reference in case of a dispute.
Employee Mental Health and HR Best Practices
Mental wellness in the workplace is essential since it can affect employees' performance, behaviors, and relationships; thereby substantially impacting the business. Regarding mental well-being and health issues, the law forbids employers from dismissing employees unfairly and solely because of a particular diagnosis.
Employers should always be on the lookout for various tips and tricks to improve employee mental health. Some of the best practices for HR professionals concerned about workplace mental health include:
- Conducting surveys to assess employees’ satisfaction and well-being
- Introducing and maintaining robust well-being programs
- Ensuring any well-being programs offer counseling and mental health services to employees. This will aid in recovery and reduce workplace anxiety.
Through Human Resources, employers can also arrange adequate training for staff members about mental health, teaching them to spot early signs of problems, and giving them tools and resources to deal with a coworker who may be struggling. It may also be helpful to set up a “wellness committee” and/or designate someone who has completed the training offered as a wellness coordinator for the team.
It is imperative to note that the experiences and effects of mental health issues are unique to every person. If you are experiencing mental health issues that are impacting your work, consider speaking to your primary healthcare provider, or your therapist, or taking advantage of your company’s well-being programs or EAP. There are always options, you are not alone, and a professional will be able to help you access the resources and services you need to support your well-being.
If you think your mental health issues are impacting your work and are considering asking your employer for accommodation and revealing personal information to your employer, consider first discussing this with your therapist or healthcare provider. Make sure you understand and can successfully manage the possible stress associated with such disclosures.