Addressing Staff Mental Health Assistance And Discrimination

Managers play an essential role in recognizing and responding to signs of mental stress and burnout among their workers.

Staff may need a better understanding of their healthcare or other benefits or more information about your employee assistance program (EAP) and how to receive mental health treatment.

Experts suggest managers periodically ask staff how they are managing workplace and non-work-related stress. Managers can start the conversation with their own experiences to encourage staff to engage and speak honestly.

Managers should watch for indications that the staff person does not want to discuss their mental health. Allow the discussion to end if the staff member does not. The individual may already have personal and/or professional mental health support outside of work. Jennifer Liu "The most important thing managers should know about discussion mental health at work" (Dec. 27, 2021).

Commentary and Checklist

To help avoid disability discrimination and genetic information discrimination, family employers can train management about how to talk to staff about mental health issues in a way that provides them with any necessary resources without creating discrimination exposure.

With burnout on the rise and many people experiencing more and more stress both at work and outside of work, stress-related mental health issues are likely to increase. To increase productivity and reduce absenteeism among staff, it is important that you and your managers help staff get the mental health resources they need.

However, badgering staff with questions about their mental health or requesting mental health-related information they do not wish to share could easily lead to allegations of disability or genetic information discrimination. Remember that many mental health issues are considered a disability under federal and state disability protection laws and certain disabilities could have genetic implications, as well.

Keep all staff mental health information confidential as you would other protected medical information.

Family employers should follow these additional practices to help prevent discrimination:

  • Review existing discrimination policies, and make sure they adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).
  • Assume that anything but minor or temporary injuries or ailments are arguably a disability under the ADA.
  • Create accurate job descriptions that consider and set out the exact criteria and abilities necessary to perform the job, including the mental, physical, and environmental requirements to perform a position.
  • Train managers on the ADA, what is considered a disability, and preventing disability discrimination. This Site includes training on preventing disability discrimination.
  • Avoid making assumptions about an applicant's or staff member's physical or mental impairments or whether they have any impairments. Disability issues are to be managed on a case-by-case basis.
  • Take all requests for accommodation seriously and establish a procedure for fairly determining if a person's accommodation request is reasonable or not.
  • Have access to experts to help determine what is a disability and what is a reasonable accommodation. If staff is injured, consult an independent medical provider who can help determine the extent of an injury and whether a person can meet the essential functions of a job.
  • If you have concerns regarding a staff member's medical condition and/or his or her ability to perform job duties, you should breach the subject with your legal counsel and seek their direction.
  • Speak to an attorney before dismissing or failing to promote a staff member because of a disability.
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