Mental Health and the ADAAA: A Blueprint for Management
By Kate Harri, MA
Founder & President
Working Solutions, LLC
By Dawn C. Van Tassel, J.D.
Van Tassel Law Firm
Managers have a significant impact on the morale of an organization’s workforce as well as the company’s bottom line. A manager who treats employees well and is equipped with the skills and insight to effectively handle performance issues is a major asset for an organization’s absence and disability management programs. If these performance feedback interactions are well-managed, employees with mental health conditions may not even need to take medical leave; they can remain at work, which research indicates is generally more effective for both employees and employers.
In the world of mental health, performance can be impacted by common conditions such as depression and anxiety. Individuals impacted by a deterioration in mental health commonly have problems with concentration, interpersonal communication, and productivity. However, the presence of a performance issue does not necessarily mean there is a mental health issue present. Similarly, a lack of a performance issues does not mean there is not a mental health issue present. Addressing performance problems early on, with appropriate feedback, is vital to assist employees to improve their work performance regardless of the reason they are not performing well.
Navigating the legal landscape when an employee has a disability related to his/her mental health can be challenging. At the outset, it is not always clear that an employee may need a reasonable accommodation. Mental health issues, when not diagnosed or otherwise acknowledged by the employee, can often present themselves as performance issues, such as tardiness, inability to concentrate, lethargy, and many other behaviors. An effective manager can help the employee and the organization identify and address issues by appropriately addressing performance-related issues early and with a desire to help.
However, once an employee has sought a reasonable accommodation, employers have quite a bit of flexibility on how to accommodate. It is not just a matter of putting the employee on a leave of absence — although that may be the best accommodation in some instances. Employers should take a flexible approach, keeping in mind the recommendations of the employee’s medical team. A reasonable accommodation could be as simple as moving an employee’s work station closer to a window, permitting an employee to work hours that coincide with when they are most productive, or offering the opportunity for telecommuting.
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the ADAAA. Prudent employers see the benefit in flexibility and open communication to keep employees both satisfied and on the job.
Join our session at the 2020 DMEC FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference, Mental Health and the ADAAA: A Blueprint for Management, where we will offer additional solutions and resources to teach your managers how to identify situations that may fall under the ADAAA, as well as how to provide appropriate support for the accommodation and return-to-work processes when mental health conditions are at play.