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Anxiety and the Workplace

Anyone who has suffered from anxiety understands that it not only impacts one’s home life, but also has a significant impact upon their work environment. Data shows that anxiety has increased in recent years and is now the top mental health issue that employees are experiencing.

An analysis of more than 300,000 cases in the United States (U.S.) from mental health provider ComPsych, the world’s largest provider of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), found that nearly a quarter of people (24 percent) who reached out to ComPsych for mental health assistance in 2023, did so to get help with anxiety. According to the same survey this makes anxiety the number one presenting issue reported by U.S. workers, topping depression, stress, relationship issues, family issues, addiction, and grief. In a separate report, ComPsych released an additional analysis finding that mental health-related leaves of absence are increasing in the workplace, up 33 percent in 2023 over 2022. Employee leaves of absence due to mental health-related issues are up 300 percent from 2017 to 2023, and they vary from a few days to weeks.

Mental illness may often rise to the level of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and its Amendments Act (ADAAA), requiring employers who have 15 or more employees in their workplace to make accommodations for employees with such conditions. To have employment protection under the ADAAA, an employee with a physical or psychiatric condition must meet two criteria:

  1. Be qualified for the job. A qualified employee is one who, with or without, reasonable accommodation for a disability, may perform the essential duties and responsibilities of the job in question.
  2. Have a disability as defined by the law. The ADAAA does not list medical conditions that constitute disabilities. However, it has a general definition of disability, if the person meets one of the following conditions:
    • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, learning, or operation of a major bodily function.
    • Has a history of such an impairment such as cancer that is in remission.
    • Is regarded as having such an impairment even if the individual does not have such an impairment.

If it is determined that an employee may need a reasonable accommodation for anxiety or any other mental health-related issue, the Department of Labor (DOL) offers several accommodation suggestions on their website. While the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) (click here) does not enforce the ADAAA, it does offer publications and other technical assistance on the basic requirements of the law, including a covered employers’ obligation to provide reasonable accommodations (click here) to qualified job applicants and employees with disabilities. Employers are encouraged to visit the DOLs website to gain additional information on mental health-related accommodations in order to proactively assist their employees who may have a need.

How might employers ensure access to treatment for employees who are experiencing anxiety or what might they do to provide assistance?

  1. The Mental Health Parity and Additional Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) requires large group health plans to ensure the financial requirements and treatment of limitations applied to mental health and substance use disorder benefits and services are no more restrictive than for medical or surgical benefits and services.
  2. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) builds on the MHPAEA and requires coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services as one of ten essential health benefit categories in non-grandfathered individual and small group plans. Over the years, the rules and guidelines have evolved, with modifications from the ACA of 2010, the Cures Act in 2016, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
  3. Beginning in 2021, plan sponsors must conduct an analysis of their health plan’s treatment limitations and provide this information to the Department of Labor (DOL), or the Department of Health and Human Services upon request.
    • The Department of Labor (DOL) provides an online self-compliance tool that consists of questions and examples to help plan administrators assess whether their plans are in compliance with various MHPAEA requirements, including rules relating to medical management standards, pre-authorization requirements, and coverage exclusions and limitations.
  4. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employers who are covered by the act may provide employees who are experiencing mental health-related conditions job-protected time off from work to seek medical treatment. While time off from work may be provided as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and its Amendments Act (ADAAA), the FMLA provides an employee with additional job and benefit protection and reinstatement rights. Leave that qualifies for protection under the ADAAA and FMLA may run concurrently.
  5. Employers who have provided an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a benefit for their employees either as a stand-alone benefit, or as part of their organization’s medical insurance, should request assistance from the EAP provider with educational programs and other workplace tools in order to aid employees who may be seeking assistance with their anxiety or other mental health-related challenges.
  6. Employers may offer fitness programs or gym memberships which ultimately may improve an employee’s physical health, which in turn promotes positive mental health.
  7. Work environments that connect with the outside world through natural light, plants, etc. and that provide a versatile, flexible range of spaces may assist employees who are experiencing anxiety or other mental health-related challenges.
  8. Employer-sponsored awareness-building and anti-stigma campaigns are always positive ways in which an employer may help those who may be suffering from anxiety or other mental health-related challenges.

The Center for Workplace Mental Health provides a Working Well Toolkit to assist employers in fostering a workplace that promotes, supports, and improves the mental health of employees and their families. Employers are encouraged to access the toolkit by clicking on the following link https://www.workplacementalhealth.org/employer-resources/guides-and-toolkits/the-working-well-toolkit.

For additional information related to anxiety and mental health-related challenges in the workplace, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.

Updated by: Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP







New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.