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Helen Holden
Employment Law
We Need To Talk About It At Work: Mental Health In The
By Helen Holden
The conversation about mental health is seemingly everywhere. Publications like the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review have recently featured the topic, and the blogosphere and podcasting worlds are similarly awash with opportunities to engage on the topic.
There is good reason for the explosion of mental-health related information. According to one study, 46% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their adult life1. These conditions range from mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or chronic mild depression, to anxiety disorders, and to neurological disorders such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Many individuals with severe mental health issues do not work, but most with milder or even moderate cases are employed. One recent study found that 76% of employed individuals stated they experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year2. Through the pandemic, reports of “Covid-fatigue” and burnout were frequent. Against this background, employers have begun to identify proactive measures for employees. These measures include education and providing mental health and well-being digital tools and applications through health plans and otherwise. These tools are critical to successfully navigating mental health concerns in the workplace.
When issues do arise, employers must understand their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and be prepared for ensuing disputes with employees. A number of recent cases highlight the need for vigilance when it comes to accommodations for employees with mental health concerns.
One recent case involved an employer that declined an employee’s request to use non-revolving doors, contending that entering the workplace was not an essential function of the position. Unfortunately for the employer, the courts disagreed. The lesson this employer learned has implications for other employers, in that companies must provide accommodations that allow employees with mental disabilities to access the workplace as well as accommodations that allow employees to perform other essential functions of the position.

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