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How to accommodate employees with mental illness

On Behalf of | Jun 24, 2020 | Employment Law

Mental illnesses are among the most prevalent and debilitating health concerns of our time. In fact, health conditions lead to more lost workdays than back pain or arthritis and affects a staggering one in five adults in the United States.

According to the CDC, depression interferes with an employee’s ability to complete physical tasks on the job roughly 25% of the time and reduces cognitive performance an estimated 35% of the time. What’s more, is poor mental health and stress may also impact an employee’s:

  • Performance and productivity
  • Engagement with their work
  • Communication with coworkers
  • Daily functioning and physical capabilities

The symptoms of mental health disorders are often invisible, and in the workplace, the topic remains largely taboo despite increased awareness. A whopping 68% of workers worry that reaching out about a mental health issue could negatively affect their job security.

Protections for employees with mental illness

Mental Health America defines mental illness as a condition “that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and behavior patterns, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands, routines and pressures.” In the workplace, mental illness falls under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The act prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability.

Accommodating mental health in the workplace isn’t just the law; it’s good business. The indirect cost of untreated mental health conditions to employers is estimated to be as high as $100 billion a year in the U.S. alone. Employers must recognize that early detection and treatment of mental illnesses will not only help your employees but also reduce health care costs down the road.

Creating a safe workplace

If you wish to support your employees living with mental health conditions, the National Mental Health Association recommends that employers:

  • Educate their employees about mental health disorders.
  • Encourage their employees to communicate about their workload, stress and other struggles.
  • Communicate that mental health conditions are real, incredibly common and treatable.
  • Discourage stigmas and offensive labels such as “crazy” or “nuts.”
  • Invest in mental health benefits.
  • Help employees transition back to work if they require medical leave.
  • Rely on their employee assistance program.

As an employer, the ADA requires you to provide reasonable accommodations to employees living with mental illness. Recognizing the validity of mental illness as a disability and creating a supportive environment in your workplace is essential to your team’s well-being and productivity.