by Owen H. Laird
This Summer, The Harman Firm Blog is running a series of articles on mental health in the American workplace. Millions of Americans suffer from a wide range of mental health issues, be they diagnosed or undiagnosed, treated or untreated, living with the stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of understanding about these disorders. The variety and severity of these conditions runs the gamut from relatively minor issues to disabilities so severe they are completely debilitating. But they are too often overlooked. With that in mind, we will undertake a comprehensive analysis of how mental health issues – both arising out of the context of employment discrimination and those arising independently – affect workers, employers, lawyers, legislators, and the courts.
People with mental health issues make up an important segment of the workforce: they work in every sector of the economy and at every level – from the mail room to the boardroom.
Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all surprisingly common, yet because of the stigma that still exists around mental health, both employees and employers are often ignorant of the realities of those suffering from mental health issues.
For individuals with mental health issues, working can be essential to the treatment of their condition. Having a steady job is often therapeutic, and on a more practical level, regular wages and health benefits allow people to obtain regular medical treatment.
But this does not mean that working with mental health issues is easy. What may seem like an everyday transaction to some can be nearly impossible to others. Indeed, some individuals, even when treated, may not be able to work. For those who do, it is their responsibility, their coworkers’ responsibility, and their employers’ responsibility to understand
From a legal perspective, many mental health issues fall under the aegis of disability law, be it the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or its state and local counterparts. As would be the case with any other sort of disabled individual, a person suffering from mental health issues may be entitled to an accommodation or other form of modification to their job. While accommodating an individual with a physical disability is often straight-forward (e.g., providing an ergonomic chair for someone with back pain), employers often have difficulty providing accommodation for individuals with mental health-related disabilities. Because of this, the ongoing disconnect between employers, employees, and the government on the subject of mental health has a devastating effect on the individuals involved.
For all of these reasons, the subject of mental health deserves a spotlight. Please stay with us over the coming months as we examine mental health in the workplace from the employee’s perspective, the employer’s perspective, and from the litigator’s perspective. All three sides are crucial to this issue.