Frustrated employee lays their head down on white office desk

Mental Health Accommodations in the Workplace 

Atkinson & Frampton, PLLC  Sept. 21, 2023

Having a mental health condition can have a profound effect on a worker’s ability to enjoy their work and perform their job duties well. Most workplaces have at least one employee with mental impairment, though these employees often do not realize they can request accommodations to be able to perform to the best of their ability. Such accommodations may include switching to a flexible schedule, requesting leave, and taking frequent breaks, among others.  

However, both employers and employees alike often do not understand what mental health accommodations in the workplace are and what the federal and state law says about the employer’s duty to provide reasonable accommodations to employees suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses. Our employment law attorneys at Atkinson & Frampton, PLLC, help both employees and employers navigate the challenges of requesting accommodations or accommodating workers with mental impairment. With an office in Charleston, West Virginia, we proudly serve clients throughout the state, including Beckley, Parkersburg, Huntington, Martinsburg, and Morgantown.  

Understanding the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits any form of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The ADA also provides that people with disabilities must have equal opportunities in employment, state and local government activities, public transit, telecommunications services, and other areas of life.  

The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including mental impairments, to ensure they enjoy the equal benefits and privileges of employment.  

Are Mental Health Conditions Covered by the ADA?

According to Mental Health America (MHA), an estimated 44 million American adults have some form of mental health condition in a given year. Under the ADA, a disability can be either a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity, such as performing manual tasks, walking, working, concentrating, breathing, seeing, hearing, communicating, and others.  

Mental health conditions covered by the ADA may include but are not limited to: 

  • Anxiety disorder 

  • Major depression 

  • Bipolar disorder 

  • Personality disorder 

  • Schizophrenia 

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

The ADA does not contain an exhaustive list of mental health conditions that would qualify as a disability under federal law. For this reason, employees who think they have a qualifying condition should ask themselves, “Does my condition limit one or more of major bodily functions or life activities?” If the answer is yes, then the employee most likely has a qualifying disability under the ADA.  

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 also broadened the definition of disability to provide protections to people with psychiatric disabilities. 

What to Consider When Accommodating Employees With Mental Health Conditions

Employers may encounter an array of challenges when accommodating an employee with a mental health condition largely due to their lack of knowledge of the laws surrounding reasonable accommodations for mental impairment. Some of the questions an employer may have include but are not limited to: 

  • What is the process for determining reasonable accommodations?  

  • What does “reasonable” mean when accommodating an employee with mental impairment?  

  • How should an employer engage in an interactive process with the employee in compliance with the law? 

  • Who gets to choose the accommodations that should be provided to an employee? 

  • Is any medical documentation necessary to prove the employee’s impairment?  

These and many other questions may arise when an employer receives a request for reasonable accommodations from an employee with a mental health condition. When an employer learns that an employee has a mental health condition that affects their job performance, they should do the following: 

  1. Gather information from the employee to learn more about the nature of the impairment and the specific limitations the employee is facing;  

  1. Understand how the employee’s impairment affects their ability to perform the essential functions of their job;  

  1. Talk to the employee to discuss what would be necessary to help improve their job performance with their mental health condition (this is known as the interactive process); and, 

  1. Identify what accommodations would be appropriate to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of their job.  

If you're an employer, it is vital to speak with an experienced employment attorney to understand how to handle an employee’s request for accommodations when the employee has a mental impairment. An attorney will walk you through the process of accommodating the employee and ensure that you do everything in compliance with the law.  

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment to the employee’s work environment that positively affects their ability to perform the essential functions of their job while dealing with a physical or mental impairment. Below are some of the common examples of reasonable accommodations: 

  • Flexible schedule (telecommuting, working from home, job sharing, part-time hours, and shortening the workweek)  

  • Leave (sick leave for a mental health condition, flexible use of vacation time, and occasional leave to attend appointments related to treatment, recovery, or therapy)

  • Breaks (allowing the employee to take breaks according to their individual needs, offering more frequent breaks, and providing a modified break schedule) 

Everyone’s situation is unique. In fact, even two employees with the same mental health conditions may experience limitations differently, which is why employers must take a personalized approach when identifying an employee’s limitations and discussing reasonable accommodations. 

Reach Out to Us for Comprehensive Legal Guidance

Accommodations for mental health conditions are crucial for employees to be able to do their jobs to the best of their ability. However, many employers and employees alike do not understand their respective rights and obligations when it comes to providing and requesting reasonable accommodations for mental impairment. Our attorneys at Atkinson & Frampton, PLLC, help both employers and employees navigate the ADA accommodations process. Reach out today to get the guidance you need.