Matt Miller, our Labor & Employment leader spoke with Patrick Connelly, from the Buffalo Law Journal, answering questions many people in the business community continually have as mental health and addiction awareness grows.
What can you do if you think an employee is dealing with addiction issues? If you suspect that an employee is dealing with an addiction, perhaps pay close attention to abnormal behavioral signals. But, if there have been no performance issues or other behavior that violates company policy, I suggest examining what programs you have available to all employees.
For example, does your company offer counseling to all employees? If not, consider introducing a program where employees can meet confidentially to discuss any mental health issues they may have and be referred to an external professional if necessary.
As the employer, be careful about accusing or suggesting suspected addiction with an employee. And think twice about disciplining an employee based on the perception or belief that there is an addiction issue because some forms of addiction may qualify as a disability under state or federal law.
If the employee is displaying poor performance or is not performing their tasks, then follow company policy for addressing those issues.
What accommodations must an employer provide? For all employees that have a qualified disability, the employer must provide “reasonable” accommodations.
Relevant laws do not define what a “reasonable” accommodation is, but EEOC guidelines suggest job restructuring, modified work schedules, reassignments to vacant positions or modifying company policies as some sample accommodations. The list is not exhaustive, and sometimes a reasonable accommodation can be as simple as providing a written performance evaluation to an employee who experiences disability-related stress when having a one-on-one review with management.
The most important component is recognizing that there is no “one-size-fits-all approach,” especially when the disability is mental health or addiction-related.
As the employer, you have an obligation to work with the employee to tailor an approach that allows the employee to perform their job functions so long as the accommodation does not place an undue, extreme burden on the company.
A good approach is to consider the limitations that the employee has versus what the disability is – and whether the employee’s performance is affected as a whole or whether discrete tasks are limited only. The key is to have an interactive and informal process where you and your employee can work together.
Our firm has experienced first hand that mental health knows no boundaries.
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