Employers’ FAQs: Navigating Mental Health in the Workplace

by Camille Bradbury on October 15, 2018

Mental health issues are skyrocketing. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness 1 out of every 5 Americans lives with some kind of mental illness. Do you know how to spot any mental-health related issues at work or how to address them?

KPA’s recent webinar, “Navigating Mental Illness, Disability & Health in the Workplace” addressed all of these things and more. Below are employers’ most common questions about mental health matters and our expert’s best practice answers.

FMLA

Q: Do you need to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you employ less than 50 people?

A: No, it is not legally required (unless you have an existing contract or agreement or if your company policy explicitly states you offer FMLA). However, if you are close to 50 employees or wish to provide FMLA, you are welcome to so as long as you’re consistent and follow the federal regulations.

Q: A manager took leave for treatment for rehabilitation from drug abuse. He is back now with the same job title, but he won’t manage a team anymore. Is that OK?

A: No. Under the FMLA, you must provide the employee with the same job or an equivalent job with the same pay, shift, benefits, responsibilities, duties, and authority. Unless the employee is requesting a different position, he is to be fully restored to his previous position, including managing a team.

If he was out on an unprotected leave (personal or company policy), then so long as there is not an existing contract, agreement, or policy stating he is to be fully reinstated upon his return, he does not need to be restored, and it’s up to your company’s discretion.

Q: When an employee returns to work after being in a treatment facility, do we need to continue letting him leave work for appointments? Do we need to request proof of visits?

A: If the employee has not exhausted his FMLA leave (and any applicable state leaves), you may request recertification of his need for treatment during working hours. If he has exhausted his FMLA, his appointments may be covered by his sick time, paid time off, or your company policy. Once all of these options have been exhausted, it’s up to you whether you want to accommodate his schedule. If it poses an undue hardship for your business, you can deny his request. Be sure you document your decision and rationale.

Q: One of our employees was experiencing anxiety and asked to go to the doctor. The clinic discharged the employee and denied the worker’s compensation claim. Do we offer FMLA information or time off?

A: For qualifying employers, FMLA should be provided when an employee expresses a need for it, even when a workers’ compensation claim has been initiated. Provide your employee with the FMLA paperwork and review what he/she submits to determine the proper designation and leave type (intermittent or the full 12 weeks). Depending on your state, your employee may be eligible for a state type of FMLA leave. If he/she does not qualify for FMLA, you can evaluate his/her request for time off as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or a relevant company policy to determine if you can provide it and for how long.

Q: What about children under age 18? Are employees able to ask for leave to care for them?

A: Under FMLA, yes, employees are allowed to care for their child’s serious health condition. Also, check for any other types of leaves that may apply in your state.

Q: I thought at the beginning of the webinar that the presenter said that employers do not have a right to know what an employee’s exact medical condition is. However, if we don’t know what it is, how can we know if we can reasonably accommodate it or determine whether it is a severe condition?

A: Determining what medical facts are appropriate for employers to know to authorize leave under FMLA varies depending on the nature of the serious health condition and is left to the discretion of the healthcare provider completing the medical certification form. Employers may not reject an employee’s FMLA certification when it lacks a diagnosis if the information provided is otherwise sufficient to verify that the condition qualifies as a serious health condition. A medical certification can spell out limitations, time frame, treatment, and expected recovery without revealing the diagnosis itself.

Additional Resource:
U.S. Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #28G: Certification of a Serious Health Condition Under the FMLA

Service Animals

Q: Do you have to allow service animals for an employee if it creates allergy issues for another employee?  

A: Generally, yes. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for affected employees unless doing creates an undue hardship for the employers. Below is an excellent resource on ways to accommodate both the service animal and the allergies of another employee.

Additional Resource:
Job Accommodation Network Consultant’s Corner: Volume 2, Issue 1

Seems Like a Sign of a Problem?

Q: How does HR go about handling an employee who shows signs of a mental illness? The suspected employee randomly blurts out unrelated topics when we are talking. How do I bring this up with the employee?

A: Based on the information you provided, I recommend having a conversation with the employee regarding his/her disruptive communication style. However, it is important to remember this conversation is about the essential functions of his/her position, identifying any unmet performance expectations, and clarifying communication requirements to meet the performance and function of the department. It would mostly be a coaching session with an opportunity to begin the interactive process should the employee request accommodation for social anxiety, for instance.

This is just a taste of the helpful information being shared at KPA’s webinars. Register for an upcoming session today.

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Camille BradburyEmployers’ FAQs: Navigating Mental Health in the Workplace