Legal Aspects of Employee Burnout, Mental Health Problems


As stress levels rise, many employees are experiencing depression, anxiety and burnout, which can have significant consequences. Workplace burnout has risen to a level that the World Health Organization (WHO) has formally recognized it as an “occupational phenomenon.”

Burnout can be an early sign that employees are experiencing mental health impacts.

When employees are suffering from burnout, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, their ability to do their work diminishes. HR professionals must be able to recognize the signs of burnout and related mental health problems and take steps to help employees.

“There is a direct correlation between burnout and mental health. Depression and anxiety often accompany burnout, with many of the symptoms overlapping,” notes XpertHR Legal Editor Robert Teachout, SHRM-SCP.

HR also needs to determine if an employee’s condition may be covered under either the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or both, according to a new XpertHR report.

“Anxiety would qualify as a ‘serious health condition’ under FMLA definitions and regulations if an employee requires inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider,” explains Teachout. “Anxiety or other mental conditions can qualify as a disability under the ADA if it substantially limits one or more of an employee’s major life activities.”

“Stress related to burnout, if medically supported, also would be a disability under the ADA, and employers would need to consider reasonable accommodations,” says Teachout. “Employers, supervisors and managers should be careful not to make generalized assumptions about whether an individual’s mental health condition rises to the level of being a serious health condition or of being a disability. Instead, approach each situation on a case-by-case basis.”

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