We Are Open (With Safety Precautions) & Ready To Help:  Click Here To Watched Our Covid-19 Webinar — What Employers Need to Know

Lawfully Handling Employee Mental Health Issues

Written on .

Thanks to the effects of a worldwide pandemic and revelations by high profile athletes, the issue of mental health is being openly discussed. Such discussions may even happen in your workplace. So how do you deal with employees who reveal that they are struggling with mental health issues, either their own or those of a close family member?

As a starting point, employers that are covered by the Americans WIth Disabilities Act (ADA) cannot discriminate against employees who suffer from mental health conditions that would be considered “disabilities.” Morever, the ADA prohibits employment discrimination against a person, whether or not he or she has a disability, because of his or her known relationship or association with a person with a known disability.

The ADA also protects employees from harassment on the basis of their mental health disabilities. Additionally, the ADA imposes a duty on covered employers to determine whether they can provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would impose an undue hardship.

These are complicated issues, and the EEOC has provided detailed (albeit not up to date–it was issued in 1997) Enforcement Guidance on the Americans With Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities. More recently, in 2016, the EEOC issued a technical assistance document targeted toward employees entitled “Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights.” This is something your employees may review if they feel like they are not being treated lawfully, so it is worth the time for employers to review it as well.

Every situation is different, so an employer should deal with employees with mental health disabilities on a case-by-case basis and with the assistance of qualified counsel. However, the following are some general guidelines:

  • If an employee reveals that he or she has been diagnosed with a mental illness, that information must be kept confidential.
  • There are very limited circumstances under which an employer can ask an employee if he or she is mentally ill. Before making such an inquiry, consult with counsel.
  • It is inappropriate for anyone to refer to another employee as “crazy,” “nutcase,” “cuckoo for coco puffs,” “insane,” or other types of derogatory words and phrases. If the use of such terms is considered to be severe or pervasive, the employer could be liable for harassment. Your harassment prevention training should cover this issue.
  • Some examples of possible accommodations for employees with mental health disabilities include altered break and work schedules (e.g., scheduling work around therapy appointments), quiet office space or devices that create a quiet work environment, changes in supervisory methods (e.g., written instructions from a supervisor who usually does not provide them), specific shift assignments, and permission to work from home.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act may come into play, if the employer and employee are covered by it.

Most of all, a little compassion goes a long way.

Principal | Email: kjj@wimlaw.com
Kathleen J. Jennings is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. She defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters.

Get Email Updates

Receive newsletters and alerts directly in your email inbox. Sign up below.

Recent Content

medical healthcare, indoors

Supreme Court Again Upholds Affordable Care Act

California v. Texas, the Supreme Court has again upheld the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often known as ObamaCare. A fede...
sticky notes, wall, indoors

No-match Social Security Letters Discontinued

In the past, the Social Security Administration (SSA) during periods of time has issued so-called "no-match letters" to employers with "a...

Supreme Court Allows Catholic Group to Exclude Foster-care Rights

The public and the courts continue to debate whether there should be religious exemptions to LGBT anti-discrimination laws. In other word...
restroom neon light

EEOC Addresses Controversial LGBT Restroom Policies

A year ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII outlawed workplace bias based on sexual orientation a...
buttons on a table, indoor

Labor Board to Reconsider Employer Restrictions on Wearing Buttons and Other Insignia in the Workplace

Many employers do not like the idea of employees wearing pro-union shirts or buttons on the job. In the past, however, and particularly d...
monopoly houses on a wooden table indoors

Supreme Court Rejects Union Access to Employer's Property in California

A strong ruling for employers' private property rights was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in June in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, No....
  • Home
  • Articles
  • Lawfully Handling Employee Mental Health Issues

Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider & Stine

3400 Peachtree Road, Ste 400 / Lenox Towers / Atlanta, GA 30326 /404.365.0900

Where Experience Counts

Thank you for visiting the firm's website. Please note that this website is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute an offer of representation or create an attorney-client relationship with the firm. The firm welcomes receipt of electronic mail but the act of sending electronic mail alone does not create an attorney-client relationship. You may reproduce materials available at this site for your own personal use and for non-commercial distribution. All copies must include the firm's copyright notice.

© 2020 Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider & Stine P.C. | Site By JSM