How should an employer handle an employee with a mental problem?

Author: Julie H. Cox

Whether the mental problem is caused by personal problems, a genetic disposition or the environment, an employer needs to know how to deal with the mental health of its employees. These health problems will undoubtedly carry over into an employee's work life. An employer can help by offering counseling through an employee assistance program (EAP). Not all people know how to deal with mental issues, so it is best to advise the employee to see someone specializing in these issues. More serious or episodic problems, such as psychotic disorders, may require immediate attention and an outside EAP instead of an in-house program.

The employer should encourage the employee to seek counseling and assure him or her that the service is confidential. The employee might request time off or it may need to be recommended to him or her to do so. Prior documentation of the employee's behavior and its consequences should be kept once a problem is recognized (e.g., lower production, frequent accidents) in order to validate any actions taken by the employer because of the behavior. An employer also needs to be aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as mental disorders may qualify as a disability and require more specific accommodations.