Employers are grappling with an increase in mental health issues

More and more employees are struggling with mental health issues and as a result, employers are making more accommodation requests and dealing with increased absenteeism. Pandemic-related stress at work and at home has played a significant role in this trend over the past two years.

Under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Act and other anti-discrimination laws, most employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with mental health issues.

Forty-three percent of employers have seen an increase in reasonable accommodation requests related to mental health since the start of the coronavirus pandemic,
according to a new survey of the law firm Fisher Phillips.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of employees requesting remote work or a hybrid schedule to accommodate their anxiety and depression,” Emily Litzinger, an attorney for Fisher Phillips in Louisville, Ky., told an emotional support animal. in the workplace to help alleviate in-person work-related stress. »

Accommodations don’t necessarily break the bank. Nearly half of employers said their telecommuting, hybrid and other flexible schedules helped address mental health issues for their workers.

“Reasonable accommodations are almost always low-cost solutions that put your workers on the right track and cause them to be more productive than they otherwise would have been,” said Pittsburgh-based Fisher Phillips attorney Raeann Burgo.

Effective measures to address mental health

Burgo recommended the following strategies for employers:

  • Ask employees what they struggle with at work.
  • Ensure that mental health resources are easily accessible to workers.
  • Remind workers of the mental health resources that are available.
  • Create a work culture and environment that promotes positive mental health.

“Employees are more likely to keep their jobs if they receive personalized and confidential mental health benefits,” Burgo said. “Employers should think about the safety of their employees’ mental health just as they think about their physical safety.”

According to a
2022 survey by SHRM.

Meanwhile, 73% of employers offer mental health coverage and 73% offer employee assistance programs, according to SHRM. But 41% of HR professionals believe their organization does not provide enough mental health support to employees.

Employers can also ensure that mental health is not a taboo subject in the workplace. At least 59% of companies openly discuss workplace mental health and wellbeing, Fisher Phillips reported.

“Don’t be afraid to start a company-wide conversation about mental health, as it may slightly increase your chances of receiving an accommodation request,” Litzinger said. “As long as your managers are trained to channel such requests to HR, your organization will be better for it.

Employees may be reluctant to discuss their mental health issues at work. Managers must therefore let them know that this will not lead to a negative reaction.

While progress has certainly been made in recent years, especially given the disastrous impact of the pandemic on mental health in general, there is still an unfortunate stigma associated with mental health issues that employers should take specific measures to mitigate,” said Marissa Mastroianni, an attorney for Cole Schotz.

Increased costs for employers

Mental illness has a significant cost to employers, not only in terms of medical claims, but also in terms of absenteeism, turnover and presenteeism. In the Fisher Phillips survey, 51% of employers said they reported instances of burnout or mental fatigue, while 46% said they faced higher turnover rates and 34% said they were faced with higher absenteeism rates over the past two years.

“Employees who don’t feel well are more likely to call in sick and see their productivity decline. Absenteeism is the lifelong result of burnout from stress, anxiety and depression. , there has also been an increase in the number of workers who are parents or caregivers and have had to take time off work to manage their child’s mental health issues,” Litzinger noted.

However, this trend has not necessarily translated into more legal battles for employers. Only 12% of employers have faced an increase in mental health-related claims or legal demands over the past two years, Fisher Phillips reported.

In general, it is a mistake for employers to ignore or avoid the subject of mental health.

“This is an issue faced by the workforce across all sectors, and it is essential that employers get ahead of the problem by taking proactive steps to manage the well-being of workers. employees,” Litzinger said. “This includes creating relevant mental health policies and training managers and supervisors to detect mental health issues and provide resources for employees to manage their stress or anxiety.”

Leah Shepherd is Senior Legal Writer at SHRM.

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