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As concerns over America’s mental health take center stage, employers find themselves under pressure to lead the charge in social reforms through workplace accommodation.
Employees are the heart and soul of any business venture. The physical and mental health of the workforce is critical to any economic success. Recent studies have shown many employees are struggling with pandemic anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges that have exploded in the past few years.
Accommodation Warning Signs
As employees return to work, many firms are receiving requests to work remotely as an accommodation for their mental or physical disabilities. The increase in mental health discrimination charges is founded largely on employee anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some employees with mental health conditions who have been working from home for almost two years are overwhelmed with anxiety at the prospect of returning to the office. Many employers report seeing an increase in the number of employees asking to work from home on a permanent basis as an accommodation of their mental health conditions.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) recently reported that “approximately 30% of Americans with Disabilities Act-related charges received in 2021 involved employees alleging discrimination based on mental disabilities.”
Because of enhanced scrutiny by the EEOC and state enforcement agencies, an employer must establish that employees cannot perform the essential functions of their job from home if they deny or limit these requests. Keep in mind, many employees have been successfully performing the job from home for two years during COVID.
Prepare Your HR Staff
Human resources departments need to be deeply engaged in learning how to assist employees. While managers may be well trained to recognize when an employee may need an accommodation for a physical disability, they may not recognize when an employee expresses that they have a work problem related to a mental health issue that also needs an accommodation.
- Determine what resources your company currently has vs. what you will need to address the issues.
- Don’t overstep your knowledge base. Seek the help and training that will be necessary to ensure you can handle the identified issues.
- Provide resources to help employees cope, including wellness and substance abuse programs.
- Engage the workforce about the company’s support of mental health issues to help remove the stigma associated with it.
- Develop a culture of caring and kindness to alleviate fears of retribution for this real issue while respecting and protecting employee privacy.
Suggested Actions to Protect Company Liability
- Train management on the seriousness of accommodation issues.
- Define the essential functions of all jobs and write the job descriptions with in-person attendance in mind.
- Consider the elements of the job that will be lost or diminished by at-home work and revise your job descriptions to anticipate accommodation claims.
- Expect more sick leave, paid leave benefit programs, and expanded state family leave programs across the country. There will also be more employee requests and the use of all benefits accrued.
- Multi-state employers must expect accommodation compliance obligations and notice requirements. The work-from-home or hybrid option will only complicate this compliance puzzle with most local ordinances applying to where the work is performed, which is now the location of someone’s home, and not where the company office is located.
- Review your understanding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The volume and complexity of health plan compliance obligations has been steadily growing.
- Learn the significant new administrative requirements to reduce cost-sharing surprises, as well as various initiatives intended to protect mental health-related benefits that prohibit discrimination.
- Invest in additional resources to ensure your compliance practices are not exposing you to regulatory and litigation risks. In the past, most employers have relied on insurance carriers and brokers for most of their health plan compliance needs.
Every employer must be in tune with what is happening with their workforce, which is what we call the “business of employment.” Add these to your areas of close attention:
Beware of cultural wars spilling into the workplace
The debate will center around three main areas: prohibitions or limitations on the discussion of sexual and gender identity issues in schools; whether to allow transgender girls to play in girls’ sports; and education – including employee training – on race discrimination and implicit bias. Cultural debates can sap the strength from any organization.
Employee compensation dilemmas
Base salary and annual bonus, coupled with a competitive standard benefits package have become mandatory for attracting and retaining key talent. This will only get more challenging as creative companies continue to raise the level of competition in creating more robust compensation packages.
Consider engaging the services of an IRS-Certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
Experts feel the volume and complexity of these needs has now reached a tipping point, which has left many businesses on their own. Leaning on a PEO can make all the difference in saving time and money while having all your business’ employee administration and compliance responsibilities expertly managed.
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About Employer Advantage
A New Path to HR Bliss – Trusted for more than 30 years, Employer Advantage frees you from the administrative and compliance burdens of having employees so you can focus on your business success. Versatile enough for companies of all sizes, our unique service combines comprehensive management of your employee administration and compliance with the latest software solutions, tailored to meet your individual needs and company culture. Our full-service management of Human Resources, payroll, health and benefits, workplace safety, and more enhances your profitability while reducing the costs and risks associated with employment law compliance. We provide your employees with top-notch assistance and benefits that help you increase productivity, save time and money, and attract and retain a talented workforce. And for small and mid-sized businesses, we bring you economy of scale with access to Fortune 500-level benefits, specialty assistance, and savings that would not be possible to attain on your own. Headquartered in the Midwest and serving more than 500 companies and 10,000 worksite employees throughout the country, Employer Advantage is an IRS-Certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO) (CPEO). Experienced, certified, and trusted. www.EmployerAdvantage.com