Job Stress Peaks During the Holidays: Must You Accommodate? You Better Be-Leave It!

Stessed Employee in Santa Hat

It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” right? But end-of-year work projects, compressed deadlines and personal-life chaos also make it the most stressful time of year for your employees.

Fact: Almost two thirds of U.S. employees (65%) say they feel additional stress at their jobs during the winter holidays, according to an Accenture report.

For HR professionals, there’s an important legal compliance issue here. In recent years, employee stress and anxiety has moved from being a soft “work/life balance” issue to a serious disability that requires employer accommodations – sometimes including extra leave from work.

The EEOC is taking action. Citing a big increase in employee complaints about mental health discrimination, the agency launched a public outreach program to teach employees suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder about their workplace rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The EEOC’s goal: Take mental disabilities out of the shadows and encourage workers to demand their rights (i.e., bring claims against your company!)

How far must you go? The ADA requires employers offer “reasonable accommodations” that allow employees with mental disabilities to perform their jobs. That can include anything from scheduling work around therapy appointments to providing a quieter office to allowing work from home.

It’s the employee’s duty to ask – either to HR or the supervisor – for the accommodation and cite the reason. (Encourage managers to pass along such requests to HR.) Then, it’s up to the organization to engage in an interactive discussion to arrive at a reasonable accommodation. The EEOC says you must provide an accommodation unless it “involves significant difficulty or expense.”

2 important Q&As to understand:

1. What if the employee’s performance is slipping and we suspect a mental disability?

A. The EEOC says you can ask employees about their potential mental disability if you “have a reasonable belief that performance of essential job functions is impaired by a medical condition.” Before making such an inquiry, you first need objective evidence that the performance problem is related to a mental condition (such as knowledge the employee suffered a mental impairment in the past).

2. Can employees use mental disabilities as an excuse for misconduct?

A. No. Most courts and the EEOC agree that employers can discipline employees with mental disabilities for conduct-rule violations. Basically, that means you can hold mentally disabled employees to the same job-related standards that apply to all employees.

The EEOC’s big outreach effort means that more of your employees (and applicants) will be requesting mental-health accommodations in the years to come – and filing more lawsuits.

Get educated now about your all your compliance responsibilities with the expert advice you’ll find at LEAP 2019. Plus, have a fabulous time with your peers at the legendary Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

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