(Written by Holly Wasechek, FEI Employee Assistance Representative)

According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), mental illness leads to more lost workdays than some physical ailments, but is not warranted similar accommodations by employers. Why is this? Mental health awareness is more prevalent today than ever before and human resources professionals recognize the need for accommodation plans for employees with mental health challenges, but further action is needed.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) reports that one in seventeen individuals live with a serious mental health impairment such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects those who disclose a mental health diagnosis to management, yet lingering stigmas associated with mental health conditions often dissuades employees from divulging such information in their places of work—and thus are never accommodated accordingly.

In many cases, an employer will discipline (or fire) an employee exhibiting mental health challenges without first trying to accommodate. Roughly 50 percent of managers won’t move forward with potential hires who have disclosed a mental health condition. This is in direct opposition to ADA stipulations that require most employers to provide necessary accommodations for employees with mental health challenges, should those challenges limit day-to-day activity.

In reality, employees with mental health challenges are very capable of doing their jobs with reasonable accommodations (which, if disclosed, an employer is required by law to provide). Such accommodations can include:

  • A reduction in work hours for mental health-related transitions between treatment and work.
  • Permission to work remotely or from home, should that be the healthier and more productive alternative.
  • A re-evaluation of daily job responsibilities.

In fairness to the organization, an employee’s accommodations must be deemed “reasonable” in that they don’t impact the organization’s financial integrity. Adjusting an employee’s work schedule serves as an apt example: medications taken to treat mental health conditions can sometimes have adverse effects—drowsiness, for instance—and while this could cause problems in the workplace, adjusting the employee’s work schedule to facilitate proper usage of medication with limited impact on performance is both ideal and a legal solution.

Creating and promoting a culture of inclusion is tantamount to a resilient workplace. Mental health conditions are just as important as physical ailments, and an employer’s policies and procedures should reflect as much. Organizations don’t want to alienate untapped talent potential or miss an opportunity to promote wellness in the workplace. Remember, employees with mental health conditions only want to do their jobs, and there are plenty of resources available to help accommodate their needs.

FEI is leading the way and making a difference for thousands of employees and their families. Ask to talk to an account manager about accommodating employees with mental health challenges in the workforce. For further information on how to accommodate someone with mental health concerns, visit Job Accommodating Network.

*This is part of a series promoting May 2016 as Mental Health Awareness Month. You can now read all of FEI’s entries.