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How to create a good mental health work environment for employees

Most people are aware that employees with a physical illness or disability are entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But it’s not as commonly known that those with mental disabilities are also covered by the ADA and FMLA, according to a new XpertHR report on mental health issues in the workplace.

“Employees with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another mental health condition are protected against discrimination and harassment at work, have workplace privacy rights, and may have a legal right to reasonable accommodations that can help them perform and keep their jobs,” says Robert Teachout, SHRM-SCP, Legal Editor, XpertHR. “It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees with a mental health condition including firing them, rejecting them for a job or promotion, or forcing them to take leave.”

About 18% of workers in the U.S. report having a mental health condition in any given month, according to the ADA. Chances are that an employer at some point will have an employee with mental health concerns. That makes being ADA and FMLA compliant paramount within any organization.

“Because mental health conditions are so highly stigmatized and misunderstood, workers with psychiatric disabilities are more likely than others to experience workplace harassment,” says Teachout. “Employers should support an inclusive workplace and send the message that workers with psychiatric disabilities have the same right to a respectful and effective workplace as any other worker with a disability.”

XpertHR offers these steps to creating a good mental health work environment for employees, while at the same time maintaining compliant policies and practices.

  • Recognize when FMLA leave or an ADA reasonable accommodation is needed.
  • Train supervisors to be aware of the signs of mental health disorders.
  • Leave the medical diagnoses to the medical professionals.
  • Begin engaging with the employee immediately.
  • Be open and flexible in considering various reasonable accommodations.
  • Use management techniques that support an inclusive workplace.
  • Maintain confidentiality.
  • Take necessary steps if an employee poses a direct threat to himself or others.

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