Mental Health Issues and the ADA

October 5, 2010, 11:31 AM

Recently CNNs website featured a lead article discussing depression among employees. It asked the question, should you tell your employer about your depression? While employers often do not know when employees are dealing with mental health issues, once an employee puts an employer on notice of such a concern, the employer should carefully observe the legal boundaries created by that knowledge. If the workplace has 15 or more employees, the Americans with Disabilities Act applies. Even if the workplace has fewer than 15 employees, the Virginia Human Rights Act requires equal treatment of those with qualified disabilities, including mental health conditions. While employees must be able to complete the essential functions of their jobs to be protected under these acts, the employer may be required reasonably to accommodate an employee's known health condition, where such accommodation does not create an undue burden on the employer.

Practical pointers for employers: (1) respect the employee's confidentiality and limit knowledge of his or her condition to those with a "need to know"; (2) consider accommodations for the employee, such as flexible scheduling around an employee's medical appointments; (3) be prepared to direct the employee to the company's Employee Assistance Program, if any, and a person knowledgeable of the company's healthcare options; (4) segregate any documents relevant to the condition in a "medical file," and do not place documents with this type of protected information in a general personnel file; and (5) do not allow any retaliation against the employee after he or she puts the company on notice of the health condition.

Individual accommodation decisions may be complex and, by law, require careful, case-by-case analysis. Consider consulting an attorney when an employee requests accommodations under the ADA. --Anna Richardson Smith