Mental Health in the Workplace: Ensuring You Are ADA Compliant

Mental Health

Chances are, you’ve experienced significant work stress at some point, especially at this time of year. The holiday season can bring a whole new level of stress and worry at work; when the stress moves beyond typical holiday worry, do you know your responsibilities as an employer in dealing with mental health issues?

According to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), 69% of employees report work is a source of significant stress and 41% report feeling stressed during the typical workday. Our infographic from yesterday illustrates the common occurrence of stress and tension at work. How can employers comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mental health requirements while supporting their employees?

ADA Compliance

The ADA, signed into law in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It guarantees all Americans the opportunity to participate in “mainstream American life” including employment opportunities, purchasing goods and services, and participation in state and local government programs and services.

Who is protected?

Not all mental impairments are recognized as mental disabilities. While an impairment is any mental or psychological disorder, to be classified as a disability the issues must meet the ADA definition of disability:

  • Physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [an] individual.
  • A record of such an impairment.
  • Being regarded as having such an impairment.

To be recognized under the ADA, an individual must meet the definition of mental disability and disclose that disability to the employer, most likely through documentation from a healthcare provider. The employer can only make an accommodation if the employee makes them aware of the situation and disability.

What are the employer responsibilities?

Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace for employees who ask for assistance; this request is not required to be in writing and can be made in plain English at any point in time. There are only two cases in which an exception may be made for the employer: if the accommodation would cause “undue hardship” for the business or is for an employee who is a “direct threat” (as documented by a healthcare professional) to the business.

How you can ensure your company makes the appropriate reasonable accommodations? Here are six examples of accommodations your company may need to make for someone with a psychiatric disability.

  1. Time off: Allow the employee to use accrued vacation time or take unpaid leave to recover or recharge.
  2. Modified work schedule: Allow the employee to work slightly different hours (ie. 10-6 rather than 9-5) to better fit her or his schedule.
  3. Physical changes to the workspace: Give the employee a more private space if needed; set up partitions to cut down on distractions.
  4. Modification of workplace policy: Permit the employee to work around some policies, such as recording a meeting for review later when this is not normally allowed.
  5. Adjustment of supervisory tactics: Supervisors are in charge of ensuring reasonable accommodation and often must make a special strategy for employees with disabilities, such as checking in with them more often.
  6. Job coach: Providing a job coach, whether from the company or an outside source, is a great accommodation when training employees.

Keep in mind all employees and disabilities are different—you may need to find another accommodation that works best.

Navigating the ADA can be tough. Make sure you comply with regulations by staying up-to-date on training. OpenSesame has several great training courses to get you started, including a helpful overview of the act from AK Learning.