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Saturday is World Mental Health Day - Understanding Disability Accommodations

Saturday, October 10, 2020 is World Mental Health Day.  Researchers estimate as many as 20% of our population is faced with mental health challenges.  Many are relatively benign, such as moderate cases of anxiety and depression.  Others can be tremendously debilitating, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and an array of other conditions.  All affect one’s ability to work, care for family, and enjoy life’s pleasures.

In the workforce, handling mental health issues among employees is critically important.  An employer needs everyone on staff to contribute to the best of their abilities.  Employees need to continue to hold jobs to provide for themselves and family.  So both employers and employees need to work together to address mental health challenges.

The law calls this the “interactive process.”  The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires employers, upon an employee’s request, to engage in this process to find reasonable and appropriate accommodations for disabilities, including mental health challenges.  “Interactive process” is a fancy way of saying “sit down and have a constructive conversation.”  Employees confronting mental health challenges may be among your best employees.  But they may need accommodations such as a reduced schedule and teleworking.  They may need more structured conversations, such as advanced notice when a supervisor wants to have a conversation about a problem at work.  Maybe they need the opportunity to have a friend or colleague sit in on a conversation with a supervisor for support.  Supervisors may need to learn not to raise their voices, or to curse, when speaking with an employee.  All of these are potential accommodations.

Employers should not view disability accommodations as burdensome. Instead, view the interactive process, and the ensuing accommodations, as a way to maximize the productivity of your workforce.  That’s a positive goal for any employer, and will allow employees to retain jobs and even thrive while confronting potentially serious health challenges.  So on World Mental Health Day, let’s celebrate an approach to workforce management that gives value to the contributions of all employees, without stigma and without discrimination.

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