Managing Anxious Worker and other Mental Health Issues


Q:  I have a small business and due to our unpredictable  workflow, I often have to ask my staff to work overtime to complete a project. Most are happy to work the extra hours, but we recently hired someone that says they suffer from anxiety and can’t work overtime.  I’m not sure if this is an excuse and didn’t want to press or ask if there was a diagnosis.  But, because this isn’t the first time an employee has mentioned mental health issues I was wondering what my obligations are to accommodate special requests like this.  I want to be supportive but I’m also running a business.

A:  That depends on the number of employees you have.

The relevant law here is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which applies to business with 15 or more employees  -if you have fewer than 15, then you can skip this part of the answer.

Let’s assume  you’re are covered. First,  you’d determine whether the problem is legally considered a disability, (defined as substantially limiting a major life activity) which is unclear in your example. Then, whether the accommodation they are requesting (like a different schedule or no OT) is considered “reasonable”, or whether it would cause “undue hardship” for your small-size business.

Ultimately, the employee must be able to perform the essential job functions, with or without accommodation. This is where having job descriptions with clearly defined essential job functions can be oh-so helpful.

Those are all legal considerations.

But let’s assume the law doesn’t apply because you’re too small or because the problem does not rise to the legal level of a disability. What’s the best way from an HR perspective to deal with an employee who mentions they have a mental health issue?

Be supportive and helpful.  Encourage them to get help, suggest resources if you have them but use your words carefully.  Sometimes we say too much when we are not sure what to say.

Let them tell you what they think they need in order to do their jobs.    Don’t volunteer suggestions, let them take the lead in offering a solution.

Don’t make decisions on the spot. Once you have a direct request (a change of schedule, or permission to wear noise-cancelling headphones) Take time to consider, get advice and weigh your options before you communicate your decision.

Not intended as legal advice.

Originally published on HR Box blog.



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