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Mental Health Becomes Bigger Concern for HR

Human resources continues to contend with huge workplace challenges two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most serious is the mental well-being of employees.

mental health 2019924 640small“Mental health conditions may not always be apparent and may be mistaken for performance-related issues,” Rose Nicole Eichberger, Jessica Guarrancino and Atoyia Harris, attorneys for Proskauer Rose, write for JD Supra. “Given increased public awareness surrounding mental health and the corresponding legal trends, employers may want to evaluate their current infrastructure, including, but not limited to, providing support for employees with mental health conditions and reviewing processes and policies to address any claims raised.”

Employers need to be proactive about removing any stigmas that might exist in their workplace around mental health, and may want consider implementing a disability affinity group. Creating policies that ensure reluctant employees that it is OK to talk about a mental disability and making sure these efforts are well-publicized also is a good idea. Employers should also do their due diligence and a cost analysis to evaluate special work accommodations to see if such accommodations would really impact business operations.

“With regard to an employee's request to work remotely, the EEOC has advised that employers are not required to grant such an accommodation request simply because the employer previously closed its offices and allowed employees to work from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” writes Eichberger, Guarrancino and Harris. “However, an employee may point to their success teleworking during the pandemic to support that the accommodation is reasonable.”

Another complication for companies is the failure of many health plans and insurance carriers to prioritize mental health coverage versus physical health issues even as the pandemic is seen as a mental health crisis, MarketWatch notes, citing a recent government report.

The Department of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department in their report note that mental health services may be harder to obtain. One health plan, for example, had excluded methadone and naltrexone as treatment options for substance abuse, while an insurance company for two health plans covered nutritional counseling for diseases such as diabetes, but not for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, according to the report. Three health plans had no therapy coverage for autism.

The “findings clearly indicate that health plans and insurance companies are falling short of providing parity in mental health and substance-use disorder benefits, at a time when those benefits are needed like never before,” Labor Department Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.

A recent survey by WTW (formerly Willis Towers Watson) found that 86% of employers have made their employees’ mental health, stress and burnout a top priority this year. Still, 49% of survey participants have not formalize their approach to reach these goals. A quarter of respondents have adopted mental well-being programs.

“As we move into 2022, employers struggling with recruitment and retention will look to make their wellbeing programs a differentiator to attract and engage top talent,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director, health and benefits at WTW. “For years, employers have used financial rewards to encourage employees to take action for their own well-being; however, as those incentives have often failed to change employee behavior, employers are seeking new avenues to engage and incent employees to take charge of their own well-being.”

The WTW surveyed more than 300 employers who managed a total of 5.3 million workers.

The Total Brain Mental Health Index for the final quarter of 2021 found that 25% of U.S. workers screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder, which was up 54% from the prior three months and 136% higher compared with the pre-pandemic period. Depression soared 87% from last fall to the end of the year and was 63% higher than prior to the pandemic.

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