Excerpted from a Masuda Funai Eifert & Mitchell Ltd Blog by Riebana Sachs

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our collective mental health. Employees have lost loved ones, connections to co-workers and the comfort of daily social rhythms. A study conducted by Boston College found that during the pandemic, reports of anxiety increased to 50 percent and depression to 44 percent in 2020 – rates six times higher than in 2019.

For some, “fear of missing out” has been replaced by “fear of normal,” which can range from anxiety about returning to the office to worries about socializing with people outside the household. How can employers respond to mental health concerns? Here are three things to consider.

1. Mental health issues decrease work performance
There has long been a stigma surrounding mental health issues, but the truth is mental health problems impact not only the employee, but business. Increased absenteeism and reduction in morale affect the company’s business directly. Moreover, mental health issues may increase accidents due to human error and staff turnover. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy approximately one trillion dollars annually.

2. Create an environment that acknowledges the importance of mental health
Even though mental illness is covered under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), many employees are afraid to come forward and thus, miss valuable accommodations to assist them. By creating policies that openly acknowledge the importance of mental health, employers can help employees feel comfortable addressing issues as they arise.

In addition, managers should keep an open-door policy and let employees know they are there for support. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are also valuable. Many companies added or expanded EAPs and services during the pandemic. Employers should consider continuing to support EAPs and employer-sponsored mental health programs.

3. Establish clear policies for accommodation requests
Under the ADA, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for mental health disorders unless it results in undue hardship for the company. Specifically, employers are required to provide accommodations for any mental health condition that would “substantially limit” an employee’s ability to concentrate, interact with others, communicate, eat, sleep, regulate his or her thoughts or emotions, or do any other “major life activity.”

It is vital for managers to understand how to respond to mental health concerns. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines emphasize that to request accommodation, an individual may use “plain English” and does not need to mention the ADA. By communicating to employees how to request accommodations and maintaining a comprehensive procedure to address requests, employers can help ensure compliance with the ADA.

Examples of accommodations include altered break and work schedules, scheduling work around therapy appointments, quiet office spaces, changes in supervisory methods (providing written instructions as opposed to oral), and working from home.

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