Harried, frazzled, overwhelmed, anxious and stressed are words that I’m hearing a lot lately. No, I’m not a therapist, though sometimes, as a lawyer, I feel like one. Disability claims have increased 50% over the past decade according to the latest data released from the EEOC. Mental health related claims are now 17.6% of all disability charges, more than doubling the past decade. Anecdotally, I wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers are even higher in 2022 as more companies have imposed some version of return to work requirements. Add in increasing crime rates, racial tensions and mass shootings as contributing factors to a workforce on edge.
With the increasing number of calls and e-mails I am receiving regarding employee mental health issues, I wanted to share some tips for effective handling of these claims.
- Update your position descriptions for the endemic phase of Covid-19. Determine what type of in person attendance is an essential function of each position and clearly delineate that in the description. For example, a social media manager who covers events may have less remote work capability than an inside salesperson.
- Remember to engage in the interactive process, looking at each role and each individual’s restrictions. That said, it’s a good idea to keep an accommodations log so you have a record of what the company has done in the past, and what has been considered reasonable.
- Determine if the employee’s request even falls under the ADA or state disability laws, or is just a preference/convenience rather than a medical need.
- As part of the interactive process, don’t hesitate to require employees and their medical providers to complete additional documentation. Frequently, providers will simply say that an employee needs to work from home without detailing what functions are limited and for what duration. Remember, employees are not necessarily entitled to the accommodation of their choice, only some thing that assists them in performing the essential functions of their job.
- Brainstorm alternative accommodations. The Job Accommodation Network is a great resource.
- Consider additional benefits related to mental health, such as an EAP or mental-health days.
Keep in mind approximately 18% of workers in the U.S. report having a mental health condition in any given month, so now’s a good time to practice patience and kindness in navigating these sticky situations in the workplace.