Four Tips for Dealing with Mental Health Diagnoses in the Workplace – Health and Safety

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Mental health has traditionally been more stigmatized than physical ailments or disabilities. However, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, the stigma surrounding mental health is diminishing. Discussions about mental health in the workplace have become more frequent recently as workers across all industries grapple with an increase in mental health issues. As a result, employers are seeing an increase in the disclosure of mental health diagnoses and placement requests.

The following are four tips/best practices employers should consider when an employee discloses a mental health diagnosis:

1. Treat mental illness the same way you treat physical disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes “mental impairments” in its definition of disability. While not all mental illness is considered a disability, the ADA classifies it as a disability as long as the condition “significantly limits one or more important life activities.” The ADA also protects individuals with a history of mental health diagnoses and individuals who are considered disabled.

The first thing to remember is to treat an employee who discloses a mental health diagnosis the same way you treat an employee who discloses a physical disability. Mental health diagnoses should not be examined separately. For example, an employer should not require a medical certificate for mental illness if it does not require a medical certificate for physical illness.

2. Think outside the box.

When an employer engages in an interactive process with an employee who has a mental health diagnosis that qualifies as a disability, an employer should use creative reasonable accommodation where possible. Possible adjustments can be: more frequent or longer breaks; a quieter work environment; a home working scheme; more frequent reminders of tasks or deadlines; remove edge features; and flexible working hours to accommodate appointments.

3. Inclusion of a mental health diagnosis has limitations.

As with physical disabilities, adjustments for mental illness should not eliminate essential work functions. Employers do not (generally) have to allow outbreaks by employees who violate workplace policies, nor do they have to require other employees to work harder because of another employee’s disability, monitor an employee’s medication, or provide a completely stress-free environment. Employers should also hold all employees to the same standards of conduct or safety, regardless of disability, when those standards are work-related.

4. Review accommodation and anti-harassment policies.

Finally, employers should review their current housing and anti-harassment policies to ensure they are updated to include mental health diagnoses. When reviewing a manual or policies and procedures, an employer should also consider whether additional training is required for managers and human resources staff to promote a stigmatized workplace. This may include additional training on recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders and steps to assess situations where employees may need help.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the topic. In relation to your specific circumstances, you should seek advice from a specialist.

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