The consensus is unanimous: the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely difficult for every walk of life. Studies show that the workplace is no different – with many employees reporting extreme fatigue, burnout, and anxiety. Good mental health is a critical component of any workplace – however, the reality is many employers see it as “less important” than many traditional physical ailments. From a legal perspective, a failure to recognize the importance of mental health can result in significant exposure/liability.
I recommend that employers keep the following in mind when considering the mental health of employees:
- Concerns about mental health legally require a response from management. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state corollaries, many mental health issues qualify as disabilities. This means that an employer must engage with an employee that discloses that they have a mental health issue – rather than ignore it.
- Resources for mental health issues should be vetted and offered uniformly. The ADA prohibits treating disabled employees differently than non-disabled employees. In order to minimize claims of discrimination, mental health programs (such as the Employee Assistance Program or “EAP”) should be offered to all workers, regardless of whether they actually have voiced mental health concerns.
- Legally vetted wellness programs can provide a way to minimize mental health issues and liability. Employee wellness programs – such as discounted gym memberships, compensated time off/away, and team-building initiatives have become more difficult to facilitate due to COVID-19. I recommend that employers consider reimplementing an organizational wellness program – after vetting whether the initiative exposes the organization to additional legal issues (i.e., increased exposure of COVID-19 and discrimination claims, among others).
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Theodora Stringham assists individuals, businesses, and organizations with growing successfully while minimizing liability. Focusing on real estate and personnel needs, Ms. Stringham executes sustainable plans for real estate development and employee matters. She provides comprehensive representation for everyday growth issues, including, but not limited to, re-zonings, site plan approvals, eminent domain/valuation concerns, employment discrimination, and disciplinary issues. Ms. Stringham’s scope of representation ranges from identifying potential liability and providing counseling/trainings, all the way through representation at trial.
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