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A Perfect Storm: The Rise Of Employee Mental Illness And The ADA

An annual survey in the UK concerning mental health in the workplace found that, for the sixth year in a row, over 40 percent of employers saw an increase in employees with mental health issues.

Workplace mental health illnesses are on the rise. In 2009, only 24 percent of respondents reported increased mental health issues among their employees.

Training managers on how to assist employees with mental illness is essential, but currently only 30 percent of organizations provide such training. Likewise, only 31 percent of employers said they are trying to increase mental health awareness in their workforce, and 22 percent said they are not taking any action to improve employee mental health. Hayley Kirton "Two-fifths of employers report increase in employee mental illness," cipd.co.uk (Oct. 9, 2015).


Commentary and Checklist

The number of disability discrimination charges under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has steadily increased over the past decade.

In FY2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 26,968 charges of ADA violations, compared with 14,893 charges in FY 2005. Monetary benefits increased from $44.8 million in FY 2005 to $128.7 million in FY 2015.

With the number of disability discrimination charges, it is important for employers to review their policies. In particular, employers must make sure that their disability discrimination and accommodation policies and procedures include mental illness, which is a protected disability under the ADA.

The number of employees suffering from mental illness is also increasing. One in five adults will experience a mental health issue this year in the United States.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that major depression is the leading causes of mental health-related disability. Each year in the U.S., 15.7 million adults—6.7 percent of the adult population—experience a major depressive episode.

There are many types of mental illness. Here is a snapshot of just a few.

Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that affect a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks. According to NIMH, 2.6 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from bipolar disorder each year, and nearly 90 percent of the cases are severe.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or physical harm. Each year, 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S. experience PTSD, and over a third of those cases are severe.

The percentage of ADA charges relating to anxiety disorders increased from 2.4 percent in FY 2005 to 5.8 percent in FY 2015, and those relating to PTSD increased from 0.8 percent in FY 2005 to 2.4 percent in FY 2015.

Of all the types of mental illness, depression is the most common. Depression accounted for 5.5 percent of all ADA charges in FY 2015.

As employees become more aware of mental health issues, and more willing to admit to having a mental illness, the number of accommodation requests will increase.

As a result, the risk of disability discrimination charges and resulting litigation will also rise. Therefore, employers must consider any requests for accommodation because of a mental illness. Follow these guidelines for managing accommodation requests:

  • When presented with an accommodation request, engage in an interactive process with the employee with a disability. Seek expert opinion from the employee's health care provider regarding possible reasonable accommodations.
  • Make sure the health care professional has a detailed job description that identifies all aspects of the essential functions of the job the employee seeking the accommodation must be able to perform.
  • Establish a neutral process by which accommodation requests are evaluated to determine whether they cause an undue hardship on the employer or create a safety hazard for the employee, other employees or third parties.
  • Provide independent proof to an applicant or employee with a disability as to why an accommodation creates an undue hardship or safety concern, and permit the employee to refute it, if possible.
  • Once accommodations are in place, meet with the employee and others to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations. Determine whether additional accommodations are needed.
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