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Does it seem like you are dealing with more mental health issues in your workforce? If so, you are not alone. Recent mental health claim statistics show an alarming increase in chronic illnesses since the pandemic. For adults between the ages of 35 and 44, mental illness diagnoses have increased from 48% in 2019 to 58% in 2023, according to the American Psychological Association. In its most recent Strategic Enforcement Plan, the EEOC listed “workers with mental health related disabilities” as one of the categories of vulnerable workers on which they will focus their efforts to prevent harassment, retaliation and discrimination. With these types of issues on a dramatic rise, it is worth a reminder about an employer’s obligations under the ADA for mental health issues.

What Does the ADA Require?

As we know, the ADA requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a qualified employee with a disability. For a condition to meet the definition of a disability under the statute, it must be a mental impairment that substantially affects one or more major life activities. The EEOC has specifically held that conditions such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia meet that definition. However, other problems such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression may also fit into that category.

If an employee comes to HR with a mental health issue and requests a disability, that triggers the interactive process. The ADA requires the employer to provide reasonable accommodation that would allow an employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job, and employers and employees must discuss options that could fit the bill. Common accommodations to address mental health issues are extended leave, scheduling changes, and additional breaks. You need to listen to the employee and the employee’s healthcare provider. Always remember that this is an interactive process, so it may take several steps. Be patient and creative.

Are There Other Strategies?

Beyond ADA obligations, employers should also consider proactively engaging with their workforce on well-being. Programs that focus on stress management, nutrition, and exercise may help reduce future claims for anxiety and depression. Encouraging open dialogue among employees and management about the health status of the workforce would also be helpful.  Employees who feel supported and who have receptive supervisors may be less likely to have a sudden need for an ADA accommodation. They are also less likely to file an EEOC charge.