SHRM23 Highlights Importance of Workplace Support

LAS VEGAS — The session titled “I Need a Mental Health Day! Handling ADA Accommodation Requests for Stress, Anxiety, and Mental Health” at SHRM23 witnessed an overwhelming response, with attendees filling the classroom-style space. The session’s popularity reflects both encouraging progress and concerning challenges surrounding mental health in the workplace.

According to data from the National Association of Mental Illness, approximately one in five individuals experiences mental illness, with 5% facing “serious mental illness.” The rhetorical question posed by Anne-Marie Welch and Mario R. Bordogna, attorneys for Clark Hill PLC, asking if attendees were surprised, received a resounding “no” from the audience.

As the speakers highlighted, mental health has gained significant attention in public discourse due to the impact of COVID-19, financial hardships, and social and political unrest. Accommodation disputes have also emerged as a notable and often publicized area of employment law.

The focus of the session revolved primarily around compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the importance of HR professionals determining reasonable accommodations. The speakers also emphasized the risks HR incurs when rejecting accommodation requests due to perceived undue hardship on the business. However, beyond compliance, the session encouraged HR professionals to approach mental health challenges with sensitivity.

Welch and Bordogna urged attendees to shed stereotypes and recognize that having a disability does not automatically render an individual incapable of performing their job functions. Additionally, casually using terms like attention-deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or “bipolar” can be discriminatory.

The ADA’s definition of “disability” encompasses physical and mental health impairments, as well as limitations in cognitive abilities. It also includes individuals who are regarded as having a disability or have a record of having one. To facilitate accommodations effectively, the speakers recommended making accommodation request forms easily accessible and implementing an “interactive process” that fosters open communication between employers and employees.

To further promote inclusion and maintain ADA-compliant workplace policies, HR professionals were advised to familiarize themselves with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on psychiatric disorders, depression, and mood disorders. Additionally, the Occupational Information Network was recommended as a resource for defining essential functions and implementing best practices.

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