The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the nation’s mental health. In the first year following the onset of the pandemic, global rates of anxiety and depression rose by 25%, according to the World Health Organization. Grief, uncertainty about the state of the world, and mental exhaustion have all been triggers for this uptick in symptoms of mental illness. The impact of this is particularly evident in the United States’ workforce.
There are two federal laws that provide relief for employees suffering from mental health issues. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of protected medical leave for an employee tending to mental health issues or supporting a close family member through such issues. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides reasonable accommodation for employees with physical or mental medical conditions. We routinely counsel clients on such issues and provide the most up to date advice on developments in the law.
Nearly half of U.S. employees have experienced symptoms of mental illness since the onset of the pandemic. As many as 35 million workdays are lost due to mental illness, and untreated mental illness in the workplace costs businesses $105 billion annually. Mental illness, especially when left untreated, has a negative impact on both employees and employers. This is demonstrated in the rise of mental health discrimination claims. In 2021, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that 30% of their Americans with Disability Act (ADA) related claims are allegations of mental health discrimination, compared to only 20% in 2010.
Mental health resources need to be provided in the workplace. There are a few critical things that employers can do to better support their workers through the difficult issues many are facing. First, employers should make their employees aware of their legal right to accommodation if they have a mental illness. When an employee discloses that they have a mental illness and would like an accommodation, employers should be sure to engage with the ADA’s interactive process. This should be consistent and confidential – managers and other personnel should only be informed on a need-to-know basis. It is important to first evaluate the legitimacy of an employee’s claim of mental illness, then to determine appropriate accommodations to best support them.
Employers should ensure that employees understand the medical resources available to them. Research has shown that racial and ethnic, sexuality, and gender minorities persistently face inequalities in accessing mental healthcare, so ensuring there is parity in employees’ access to mental health care is crucial for the wellbeing of a company as a whole. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), or free short term counseling, can also be helpful in making sure staff feels supported.
Finally, there should be a concerted goal within every employer to destigmatize mental health. This can take the form of encouraging employees to take mental health days when they need them, being open about their own experiences if they have them and creating an inclusive and supportive environment so employees are not scared to ask for help. Employees can get the ball rolling by bringing up the topic in the workplace and supporting coworkers who are struggling.
If you are suffering from any medical issues, we can help! Please contact us at 844-HURWITZ or email [email protected].