Accommodations for Mental Health Conditions Require Discretion, Flexibility

Because mental health conditions often
manifest themselves in sudden and unique ways, employees can’t always give
employers sufficient notice that they need accommodation—and the kinds of
accommodations they may need vary widely. Complicating an already-challenging
situation: Employers and co-workers may be doubtful that employees need
accommodation at all. 

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Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) issued in December 2016 can help employers identify possible accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) for people with mental health conditions
. Tamping down the
skepticism, though, may be harder.

“Employees sometimes use their mental
[health] conditions as a basis for not performing or for not accepting
constructive criticism,” said Joan Casciari, an attorney with Seyfarth
Shaw in Chicago. “I have also seen employees who use intermittent FMLA
[Family and Medical Leave Act time off] for mental health reasons every time
there is a deadline or difficult issue, so employers become skeptical.”

According to Bryan Benard, an attorney with
Holland & Hart in Salt Lake City, mental health conditions are challenging
for employers “because they are very unique and many times episodic.
Trigger points may be unknown, and it is very difficult in many situations for
an employee to give any advance warning of the situation that must be

But, Casciari noted, employers still need to
keep an open mind and work to accommodate those with mental health conditions
“in the same good-faith way they work with those with physical

According to the EEOC guidance, ADA
accommodations for people with mental disabilities may include: altered break
and work schedules, specific shift assignments, permission to work from home,
or leaves of absence.

“There still
remains an enormous stigma if one is suffering from a mental health
condition,” Mook noted. Stigmatizing someone based on their disability is
an act of discrimination. 

That’s why HR, rather than the manager, should
handle the accommodation request, he said.

“Some types of mental disorders, such as
manic depression, anxiety or PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], may result
in the person behaving in a disruptive fashion with other employees, customers,
clients or supervisors,” Mook noted. Because it may not be apparent what
is causing the inappropriate behavior, “accommodating the person with a
mental disability requires creativity on the part of HR.”

It is necessary for employers to provide reasonable accommodations
for individuals who suffer from mental illnesses or disabilities. Converge
specializes in everything HR; we develop systems and processes to support the
entire employee life cycle. If you’d like assistance for your business, we can
provide a proactive approach to future issues. Accommodating a disability is
not something to react to, it is something to prepare for and anticipate. For more
information on how we can help you, visit Contact us directly at or 610-296-8550.

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