Mental Health at Work: HR and Work Comp Implications

May 30, 2018

Many Americans suffer from mental illness – and this includes many of the employees at your company. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one out of six adults in the U.S. are dealing with some sort of mental illness. Because mental illness is so prevalent, it’s vital that all employers understand the rights of workers dealing with mental health issues.

ADA Protections

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employees dealing with mental illness are granted rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These rights include the following:

  • Workers cannot be harassed or discriminated against due to mental health issues.

  • Workers cannot be fired due to mental health issues.

  • Reasonable accommodations must be made.

In most cases, employees can choose to keep their mental illness private. However, when an issue is known and when it affects work, an employer may have the right to require an independent medical exam to determine whether an employee is mentally capable of returning to work. HR Morning reports that this is what one court ruled in the case of Monroe v. Consumer’s Energy.  

Leave and Schedule Accommodations

Workers with mental illness may qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for qualified employees. 

In some cases, reasonable accommodations under the ADA may include a flexible work schedule or the ability to telecommute. It may even include an extended leave of absence. 

The Los Angeles Sentinel reports that a woman was awarded $4.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages in a wrongful termination suit. She took time off to deal with an injured arm and depression. Before she was supposed to return to work, she requested additional time off. Her employer then fired her without making an effort to accommodate her health issues.

This case shows that employers should not be dismissive of an employee’s mental health needs. Firing an employee over a schedule request related to mental illness may result in a very expensive lawsuit.

Workers’ Compensation for Mental Illness

In some cases, workers may file a workers’ compensation claim for work-related mental health issues. For example, if an incident at work leads to post-traumatic stress disorder, this could result in a valid claim. Depression and anxiety caused by work could also lead to claims. Even severe stress may result in a claim.

When determining whether a mental illness is covered, it’s important to look at the state laws.

Mental Health Parity

Under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, group health plans and health insurers cannot provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits that are more restrictive than the medical or surgical benefits provided.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this means that copayments, deductibles and out-of-pocket limits for mental health care cannot be higher, the number of covered visits cannot be more limited and coverage for out-of-network providers cannot be worse. Additionally, the use of care management tools and the criteria for medical necessity determination must be equal.

The law applies to large employer-funded plans as well as smaller employer-funded plans unless they were grandfathered in. Some employers can receive exemptions.  

Have questions about mental health issues at your workplace? Contact your Heffernan Insurance broker for guidance.