It's open-enrollment season--the time when you can change your health care plan for the upcoming year. While all companies don't use the calendar year, many do. You should pay special attention to the mental health coverage in your chosen plan.

If you're the HR person tasked with finding the best plan for your company for 2020, it's probably already done with the contracts signed, but keep in mind the importance of mental health care coverage.

You may say, "This isn't important. No one at the office needs this." First of all, doubtful. Second, nobody may need coverage for a broken leg today, but they may slip and fall tomorrow. Your office may be cancer-free today, but not tomorrow. You'd never say, "We don't need good cancer coverage, because no one has cancer!"

The first and best step that HR can make toward battling mental health problems is to find the best possible health care plan.

This is not easy. Mental health care is expensive. So, here are some slightly cheaper ways HR can help out.

Employee Assistance Programs

These programs, often referred to as EAPs, aren't just for mental health care but for everything in the life side of work-life balance. They can help with finances and lawyers and all that fun stuff. But, importantly, they can help an employee find a therapist or a doctor--confidentially. 

FMLA and ADA

Both of these can be used for mental health problems. If you have 15 or more employees, everyone is covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has stricter requirements--50 employees, a year of service, and a minimum number of hours. Your state laws may vary.

ADA requires that you make reasonable accommodations for disabilities. This can include such things as flexible schedules, time off for therapy or doctor appointments, support animals, a place where an employee can go to be alone for a moment, or other things that your employee may need.

The critical thing is the accommodations have to be "reasonable," and you have to go through the "interactive process." If your employee comes to you and says, "I have seasonal affective disorder, so I need to work six months in the southern hemisphere and six months in the northern hemisphere," that's likely not reasonable for your company. But it might be reasonable to allow the employee to take their lunch break when the sun is brightest, so they can go outside and get needed sun.

If the two of you don't immediately agree, you can go back and forth until you come upon a reasonable solution. You don't always have to take the employee's suggestion--although if you can, it's often a good idea to do so. 

FMLA covers time off. If an employee qualifies, remember you can't punish the employee for using the time for needed mental health care. It can be done in chunks of time, or as intermittent FMLA. An employee with a mental health problem may need weekly therapy, and FMLA may protect that time. Always look for a way to say yes.

Don't Get Caught up in the Myths of Mental Health

Myth: Individuals with mental health conditions cannot work in stressful or demanding jobs.

Fact: Many individuals with psychiatric disability can and do work effectively. How the condition impacts work life varies considerably, and there is no one-size-fits-all.

Myth: Individuals with mental health conditions pose a danger to others in the workplace.

Fact: Despite the flashy headlines, there is no credible evidence that individuals with mental health conditions pose a danger to others in the workplace. In fact, people with psychiatric disability are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

Myth: Individuals with mental health conditions cannot work until they are completely recovered.

Fact: Workplace accommodations enable many with psychiatric disabilities to work effectively with their disability.

Another myth is that if your employee goes for a walk, gives up gluten, uses essential oils, or uses CBD oil that they will be cured. That's not how mental illness works. Leave your untested ideas to your personal Facebook page, and tell your employee to ask their mental health care provider.

Remember That You Are Not a Therapist

Employees often treat human resources personnel as therapists; don't give in to the temptation to respond like one. Unless you are a licensed professional, you have no business acting like one. Help employees with their work concerns and with work-based communication problems, but refer them to specialists for their mental health problems.

Do take the time to listen to your employees, but do not attempt to diagnose or treat conditions. 

Mental healthcare is a critical part of your employees' healthcare and work-life balance. Make sure your HR department does what they need to, to help your employees get the help they need.

Published on: Oct 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.