Return to Work, Mental Health and the ADA

Many post-COVID return to work mandates have been met with a serious challenge by workers: mental health issues. The Wall Street Journal reported astonishing figures on return to work and mental health claims recently:

The number of charges filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination against individuals with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder rose by at least 16% for each condition from 2021 to 2022. Data from multiple state civil-rights agencies show that in recent years, disability charges—encompassing a range of conditions including mental-health disorders, hearing impairments and autoimmune diseases—have overtaken previous top complaints, such as retaliation and race discrimination. (emphasis added)

On the heels of many companies starting come back to the office or quit in the past two years, the increase in claims is not unexpected. The fact that so many employers are in the cross hairs with the EEOC over mental health accommodation requests is the real surprise. Employers should treat accommodation requests based on mental health the same way they would for any other condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act: initiate an interactive dialogue, assess the request on individual facts, determine an accommodation unless there is no undue hardship. Without these steps, you have failed under the ADA and may find your organization defending a claim. We have an excellent resource for to keep you in compliance with the ADA, our most commonly requested fixed fee service: Reasonable Accommodation Compliance Toolkit. Consider using it to implement the consistent use of best practices under the ADA.

For all the talk about the importance of recognizing and treating mental health, it is still an area that is misunderstood at best, trivialized at worst. In the article above, an employment lawyer is quoted as saying there is a fine line between remote work making me happy and remote work being necessary for my mental health. No, there is not. Our clients are smart and want to do the right thing. We can help.