Employees often grapple with two main fears when considering mental health disclosure
Mental health continues to be a paramount concern for employers post-pandemic, with more and more people succumbing to stress, burnout and feelings of isolation. Data from Forbes found that 92% of employees experience mental health challenges that impact their work, with 80% of workers adding that an organization’s mental health support is a key consideration when considering a new role.
And while the question of improving wellbeing is undoubtedly an HR one, understanding issues around psychological health also falls into the legal realm.
In that vein, Navid Kanani, a trial lawyer and employment law attorney at JS Abrams Law PC, speaks to HRD on how companies can create more supportive and transparent environments – and be mindful of any potential legal pitfalls.
"For a very long time, there has been this stigma around mental health," Kanani says. "However, there's been an expansion of protection for employees with mental health disabilities over the years."
Employees often grapple with two main fears when considering mental health disclosure. First, they fear not receiving the necessary support to perform their job effectively. Mental health covers a wide spectrum, from stress to severe disabilities, and employees are uncertain about the support they'll receive.
Secondly, employees dread becoming social outcasts or being perceived as having specific needs. Kanani explained that this fear of being singled out negatively impacts mental health disclosure.
"There's a combined concern of not getting the support they need and being labeled as someone with something wrong with them.”
One significant factor contributing to these fears is the lack of awareness among employees about their legal protections. Here, Kanani stressed the importance of education and transparency on the part of employers.
"If you don't even know you have protection, then that's even a third reason for the fear," Kanani explains. California, for example, requires every employer to provide a poster explaining disability protections and employee rights. This poster can serve as a valuable resource for employees, informing them of their legal rights and the mechanisms in place to protect them.
We then delved into the ways companies can create more supportive and transparent environments to encourage open discussions about wellbeing. Kanani pointed out that every workplace has its unique stressors, and it's crucial to address them effectively.
In his own office, where litigation is a stressful environment, Kanani focuses on implementing measures like mental health days and spa days to alleviate stress. Such initiatives can significantly reduce job-related stress, making the work environment more supportive and transparent.
"Legally, there should always be an open-door policy for employees to discuss their mental well-being," Kanani says.
Whether it's a minor issue or a major mental health challenge, employees should feel encouraged to speak with HR representatives or management. Employers must approach these conversations with receptivity and support rather than immediately trying to fix the problem.
Additionally, if an employee informs the employer of a potential disability, whether mental or emotional, the employer is legally obligated to engage with that employee and work toward a solution.