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Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace: Legal Responsibilities

Over the past few years, we have seen a new emphasis on the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic imposed an enormous and ongoing psychological toll on workers in every industry throughout Nevada. And even as workers have started returning to the office, there is no real sense of “getting back to normal,” particularly as it relates to mental health.

The reality is that millions of people suffer from mental health conditions. And in many cases, people are afraid to even admit they have a mental health issue for fear of how it will affect them at work. Fortunately, there are several legal protections in place to help workers stand up for themselves. And employers who ignore or deliberately violate these laws do so at their peril.

Mental Health and Employment Discrimination

Both federal and Nevada state laws protect employees and job applicants from discrimination in employment based on a disability, which includes mental health conditions. These anti-discrimination protections are quite broad. Essentially, an employer may not:

  • refuse to hire someone because of a mental health condition;
  • terminate, discipline, or refuse to promote someone because of a mental health condition;
  • harass or create a hostile work environment that targets employees based on their mental health condition;
  • retaliate against an employee who complains about discrimination based on their mental health condition; or
  • engage in any form of discrimination based on an assumption, whether correct or incorrect, that an employee or job applicant has a mental health condition.

Even with these protections, however, an employer may refuse to hire or keep someone in a job if they pose a “direct threat” to the safety of other employees or the general public. That said, an employer may not rely on stereotypes about a mental health condition as a pretext for labeling someone a direct threat. An employer must have objective evidence that a specific employee poses a direct threat or is otherwise unable to perform their job.

Mental Health and Privacy

Generally speaking, an employee does not have to disclose the fact they have a mental health condition to an employer. A prospective employer cannot ask about such conditions during an initial job interview. After an employer extends a conditional job offer, they may ask about mental health conditions, but only if everyone hired in the same job category is asked that same question. In other words, an employer may not target a specific employee with such questions.

In addition, if an employee seeks to take advantage of certain other legal protections, such as requesting a workplace accommodation for their mental health condition or exercising rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), it is usually necessary for the employee to discuss their condition with their employer. But even in such cases, the employer may not rely upon an employee’s disclosure to engage in any of the prohibited acts of discrimination outlined above.

Mental Health and Reasonable Accommodation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires most Nevada employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” to an employee with a disability who requests such accommodation. In this context, a mental health condition can qualify as a disability. What is considered “reasonable,” however, will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of a given employee’s situation. Some examples of reasonable accommodations may include but are not limited to, adjusting work schedules to enable an employee to seek therapy, allowing an employee to work from home or in a quiet environment within the office, or working a different shift assignment.

It is up to the employee to request a reasonable accommodation. The employer is not required to offer one. When an employee does make a request, the employer has the right to see documentation of the employee’s mental health condition, such as a letter from their healthcare provider. The employer must then engage in a good-faith interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation. If an employer refuses to engage in this process, the employee has the right to take legal action.

Contact Ace Law Group Today

Mental health is a serious matter, and the laws surrounding the handling of mental health in the workplace can be quite complex. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Las Vegas employment attorney who can advise you of your rights and responsibilities under the law. Call Ace Law Group today at (702) 333-4223 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.