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Capitol Correspondence - 07.13.21

Think Piece: Mental Health in the Workplace

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With many of our members reporting that direct support professionals on the frontlines of the pandemic are experiencing high levels of burnout and stress, we share this article by ASAE to help you identify strategies for accommodating your staff’s mental health requests.

“Last month, No.2-ranked women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka drew much attention when she said she wouldn’t participate in press conferences at the French Open because they were bad for her mental health. After organizers fined her and threatened to default her from the event, she withdrew from the tournament to attend to her mental health. Last week, she also withdrew from Wimbledon to take “personal time with friends and family.”

Although Osaka’s situation happened in the professional sports world, it has broader implications for mental health in the workplace. I turned to an expert to find out what the average person should do if, like Osaka, they have mental health concerns that could be affecting their work. Darcy Gruttadaro, J.D., director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, offered advice for both employees and employers.

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ACCOMMODATION CONSIDERATIONS

Getting time off to care for your mental health is typically as simple as the supervisor granting the time, either from accrued leave or under the Family Medical Leave Act. However, if a person wants a long-term accommodation, a few core elements are considered.

‘If you are seeking an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504, you have to qualify,’ Gruttadaro said. ‘It’s not as simple as, ‘I don’t want to do this, so I’m asking for this as an accommodation.’ The law includes certain parameters that you have to meet.’

Additionally, the accommodation must be reasonable and cannot be an undue burden on the employer, and the employee also must be able to perform the essential functions of the job.

‘If one of the essential functions of your job is to work different shifts and you decide, ‘No, I just want to work just 9 to 5,’ and it wouldn’t be fair to others if they had to take shifts but you didn’t, then we really have to ask the question: Is this fair, and can you perform the essential job functions?’ Gruttadaro said.

[…]

While managers should be the point of contact for initial requests, specifics should be handled by the experts. ‘Manager, if someone comes to you and says, ‘I am experiencing anxiety; I need a new desk location,’ or ‘I need a quieter spot,’ that goes to human resources,’ Gruttadaro said. ‘HR understands the parameters of the ADA and Section 504, and they should work through with the employee their ability to perform the essential functions of the job and whether an accommodation is reasonable.’

IMPORTANCE OF SELF-CARE

While the goal is to find situations that work for staff and employers, when the essential functions of the job are at odds with your mental health, it leaves tough choices. ‘The essential functions of the job may require you to do things that are not easy for you to do, given your mental health condition,’ Gruttadaro said. ‘It is then up to the individual to decide: is this the right job for me?’

Gruttadaro noted that mental health care has been brought to the forefront since the pandemic, and self-care is now seen as important.”