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What Employers Should Know About Mental Health Accommodations

May 10, 2023 from HR Reporter


The field of psychiatry has recognized two new mental health disorders: prolonged grief disorder and unspecified mood disorder. These additions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have implications for employers, as they need to consider these new definitions when accommodating employees.


However, employers often face challenges due to stigma or employees’ reluctance to disclose their diagnoses or seek assistance for their mental health struggles. Paul Rochford, a lawyer at Suzanne M. Dajczak Professional Corporation in Windsor, Ont., emphasizes that employers have a legal obligation to accommodate mental health issues and psychosocial diagnoses, just as they would for physical injuries.


Although these newly recognized diagnoses may create more challenges for employers, the duty to accommodate still remains important.


According to Rochford, there are two crucial steps to follow in order to establish an effective accommodation plan.


“The procedural aspect involves determining whether an accommodation is necessary, while the substantive aspect involves identifying the appropriate accommodation for the employee.”


Once it has been determined that accommodation is required, employers and HR professionals will need to address a series of inquiries to ensure all the necessary details are handled appropriately.


Employers will need to explore fresh approaches to accommodation as a result of the newly recognized DSM diagnoses, says Rochford.


“For instance, when considering an accommodation for prolonged grief disorder, employers may need to address specific triggers in the work environment, such as certain locations or routes that remind the employee of their loss. It could involve modifying their schedule, allowing them to work in an alternative location, or adapting the workspace to address their specific challenges. The key question is determining what would be considered reasonable in terms of accommodation.”


Rochford emphasizes that these practical aspects pose significant challenges for employers. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a whole new set of accommodation challenges, particularly in the context of the hybrid and remote workplace, according to another legal expert.


Determining accommodations can sometimes be complex, particularly in cases of unspecified mood disorders that don’t fully fit within recognized categories, leading employers to question how best to address them.


Rochford advises seeking guidance from medical professionals to determine the appropriate extent of accommodation obligations based on the medical evidence and its impact on the employee’s job performance.


Employers should not rely too easily on undue hardship as a reason to deny accommodation, as the legal authorities have set a high bar, stating that the cost must be significant enough to affect the sustainability or fundamental nature of the business.


Rochford emphasizes the importance for HR professionals to gather comprehensive information during the accommodation process and advises against immediately assuming disciplinary issues when noticing sudden changes in an employee’s performance. Instead, discreet inquiries can be made to explore potential underlying causes and offer appropriate support within the organization without infringing on their privacy.






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