Managing employees with mental health issues can be challenging, especially when balancing their privacy, their wellbeing, their role within the company and your company’s compliance with regulations that protect employees.
Your employees’ mental health is just as important as their physical health. Just as an employee might request a day off following a concussion or a broken bone, some employees suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental disorders may need time off to seek treatment or cope with and recover from their symptoms.
American Disabilities Act and reasonable accommodations
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) affords rights and protections to employees with a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. “Major life activities” can include effectively performing one’s job, and as such, the ADA allows for reasonable accommodations; changes to the typical work environment that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. The ADA also protects employees from being fired, harassed or discriminated against because of their disability or their request for reasonable accommodations.
In order for employees covered under the American Disabilities Act to actually utilize reasonable accommodations, they must feel comfortable and empowered to approach their manager or human resources department. Reassure your employees that your organization will work with them and support them through any mental health challenges they are experiencing.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects the jobs of employees who need time off for medical issues, whether because they are having surgery, caring for a family member, living in a residential treatment facility, or have any other kind of medical concern that renders them unable to work. Once an employee has been with their organization for at least 12 months, they will be eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave while ensuring they can return to their same or similar position. Like the ADA, employees protected under FMLA may not be fired, harassed or discriminated against because of their health status or their time off.
What should I do if an employee approaches me about their mental health concerns?
Communication and compassion are two of the most important keys to remember when managing employees with mental health issues. While you must maintain a professional relationship with your employees, that does not preclude you from responding in a caring, understanding and solutions-oriented way when an employee shares that they are experiencing mental health issues. Respond first as a person and maybe even a friend, and respond second as a manager and representative of your company.
Keeping in mind the ways in which your company must remain compliant with the American Disabilities Act and other regulations that protect employees, it is possible to find solutions that allow your employees to care for their mental health while adapting their position to be more suitable both for them and the organization.
Check with your human resources department if you are unfamiliar with how to respond in these types of situations. Here are some examples of how an employee and manager can work together to address mental health issues:
- Emily has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and sometimes experiences anxiety attacks that can last for a full day or more. She shared this with her manager, and her manager ensures he checks in with her during especially stressful periods at work. Emily’s manager has allowed her to work from home on days she is experiencing anxiety attacks, and take frequent breaks during the day if she needs to take a walk or meditate. Emily and her manager prioritize communication with one another; for example, when Emily feels that her workload is adding to her anxiety, her manager helps make adjustments as needed.
- Benjamin suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He works as an editor at a major national newspaper that utilizes offset printing, a process that can cause sudden, unexpected noises, which can trigger Benjamin’s PTSD. Benjamin is fairly senior within his organization, so he approached human resources about his options for requesting reasonable accommodations. His employer was able to offer him a private office in the wing farthest from the printing press, the ability to wear headphones to block out external noise, and permission to make telephone or video calls during work hours in case he needs to contact his therapist.
- John is struggling with substance use disorder, and has decided that moving to a residential treatment facility is the best course of action. He shared this with his manager and expressed that he would like to return to his current position after his treatment so that he can maintain a stable daily routine. After submitting the necessary medical documentation to human resources, John was allowed to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave by using FMLA, and his job and benefits were protected during his leave.
Rehab After Work offers teletherapy, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs for individuals facing substance use disorder. Get help today for you or someone you love by calling 610-644-6464.