The Interactive Process
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, employers are required to begin the interactive process when an employee is having difficulty performing their job and it is reasonable to conclude that the problem may be related to a disability.
The manager should confidentially notify the employee of the performance problem and inquire whether the employee may need a reasonable accommodation to perform the essential functions of their job. The employer is not required to lower performance standards or expectations.
Many employees are working from home at this time, but even in this situation, hiring managers should stay alert to an employee whose performance is lagging. Examples of things that may be said that should put the hiring manager on notice are: an employee’s spouse calls to say the employee cannot work because they cannot focus, or the employee says they have not been themselves since the doctor changed their meds to help them cope.
In the current situation, checking-in with employees on a periodic basis may be a vital lifeline and can prevent performance issues. Once problems are noted, addressing them quickly, confidentially and sensitively, will hopefully enable the employee to meet performance standards with or without an accommodation.
Finally, be prepared to offer support and services. Here are some tips from the American Psychiatric Foundation for managers and HR professionals to support employees:
- Show empathy and be available
- Stay connected – Check-in with employees once a week or more often, if possible, to provide support and coaching.
- Recognize the impact of isolation and loneliness – Consider holding virtual coffee klatches or happy hours. Encourage employees to share stories of how they are coping and when appropriate, infuse appropriate humor into the conversation.
- Encourage online training to sharpen and/or develop new skills for your employees.
- Check-in with your EAP to confirm the availability of mental health services and how employees access them. Also connect with your company’s health plan to learn what they are offering to support plan members and pass that information onto employees. Be sure to include all relevant website links and phone numbers for both the EAP and health plan in communicating with employees. If your company has a peer support network, be sure to make employees aware of this resource and how to connect.
Source: Supporting Employees During COVID-19
For more information on accommodations available for employees with mental illness: Job Accommodations Network – Accommodations for Mental Health Impairments.