Mental Health In The Workplace

Jun 8, 2017 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

According to the Surgeon General, one-in-five adults experiences a diagnosable mental illness each year.[1] Of these, approximately 15 percent also experience a co-occurring substance abuse disorders. These disorders, and their resulting stress and anxiety, result in more absenteeism from the workplace than physical injury or physical illness each year,[2] and according to the World Health Organization, depression in particular is the leading cause of disability worldwide.[3]

Workers under the age of forty are more likely to miss work due to a mental illness, and, as the population ages, this association between mental illness and lost work indicates that the indirect costs to employers will only increase. This is supported by the increased number of mental illness short-term disability claims, which are growing by 10 percent annually and account from more than 30 percent of all corporate disability costs for employers.[4] In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (the “EEOC,”) reported that it received approximately 5,000 claims based on mental illness issues, resulting in damages of approximately $20 million to employers.[5] Notwithstanding the growing number of claims, it is estimated that less than one-third of adults with a mental illness seek treatment.[6],

There is no denying that America is slowly starting to take note of the importance of mental health. While mental health has long been recognized as protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA,”) the EEOC recently took formal steps to provide guidance to employers and employees.[8] This purpose of this article is to assist employers with fostering a mentally-healthy workplace and navigating the legal issues surrounding mental health in the context of employment law and the EEOC’s recent guidance.  Specifically, it addresses how employers should handle accommodation requests, employees’ right to privacy and leave, anti-discrimination and harassment considerations, and small business best practices. At the end of this brief, employers will find some best practice tips to guide them when implementing workplace policies regarding mental health.

Topics included:
The legal framework regarding workplace mental health, generally
Reasonable Accommodation of Mental Illness
Privacy Considerations
Additional Leave for Mental Illness
Addressing Discrimination and Harassment
Hiring Tips for Employers
Compliance Tips

[1] David Satcher, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, preface, (Dec. 1999).
[2] J.F. Marlowe, Depression’s Surprising Toll on Worker Productivity, Employee Benefits J., 16-20 (March 2002).
[3] Emily Kuhl, Quantifying the Cost of Depression, Workplace Mental Health,
[4] Marlow, supra, note 2.
[5] Linda B. Dwoskin & Melissa Bergman Squire, The Latest on Managing Workplace Mental Health Issues, Law360, Feb. 10 2017,
[6] Major Study Confirms One Size Does Not Fit All in Depression Treatment, Mental HealthWorks (2006).
[8]Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights, Eq. Emp. Opportunity Council,

Jessica M. Merlet is the founding and principal attorney of the Firm and has more than 15 years of experience in the law. Jessica concentrates her practice on start-ups and SMBs in the technology, software/SaaS, product development, eCommerce, and staffing sectors. Her work as general counsel includes transactional (inc. gov’t contracts,) corporate, data protection, compliance, and labor and employment concerns. She is admitted to practice in the states of Illinois (’08), Georgia (’09), Washington, D.C. (’10), and New York (’20). 

Jessica M. Merlet

Founder and attorney of Octans Legal


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