Disclosing Mental Health

When an Employee Discloses a Mental Health Issue

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: One of my team members just shared some personal information with me about his mental health, including that he needs a couple of hours of sick leave weekly to visit a therapist. Beyond allowing him to use accrued sick leave, do you have any tips for how to manage him effectively? I’m concerned that his mental health issues could interfere with his performance.

A: This is a complicated matter. The first thing you should know is that if your organization has 15 or more employees, you must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and some mental health issues are covered by this law. If you have an HR department, talk with them about what your employee has shared. HR should be able to provide guidance to help you navigate this complex issue.

Also, if your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), it will have trained mental health professionals who can help you and your employee. Even if you don’t have an EAP, you can check with your organization’s disability insurance carrier, who most likely has helpful resources.

Managers have to walk a fine line: You want to support your employee, but you also have a responsibility to protect your organization.

If you’re wondering whether or how you should adjust the way you manage your employee after he’s disclosed this information to you, the simple answer is that you don’t need to change anything. Was his performance meeting expectations before he told you about his condition? If so, and if he continues to do his work to your standards, there is no reason to manage him any differently than you did before.

However, if his performance slips below the standards set before his disclosure, then you should deal with him just as you would any other employee. Meet with him to discuss where his performance is falling short, and support him in any way possible to help him get back on track. If your organization has a progressive disciplinary policy, be sure to follow it and document any discussions you have with the employee about his substandard performance.

Managers have to walk a fine line: You want to support your employee, but you also have a responsibility to protect your organization. Get help to ensure you’re in compliance with the ADA while doing your best to help your employee succeed.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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