McNamee Hosea News & Press


Addressing Mental Health Issues in Employee Handbooks

Although sexual harassment policies might get more attention, mental health concerns should also be included in workplace environment discussions.

Admittedly, workplace distractions like noise, temperature fluctuations or unfriendly lighting may not rise to the level of illegality. Federal and state employment laws generally prevent against discrimination on protected categories. However, an employment attorney might agree that happier employees may be less inclined to create a hostile or illegal work environment.

At a minimum, there can be cost-benefit reasons for employers to take considerations of workplace design and comfort into consideration. Stress weakens the body’s natural immune defense system, possibly contributing to extended sick days. Workplaces that minimize noise, distractions and other environmental disruptions can help employees be productive and stay healthy.

Employers may have questions or concerns whether certain employer-provided onsite amenities, such as a gym or coffee bar, might rise to the level of a compensable benefit. Fortunately, an attorney who specializes in drafting employee handbooks, equity-based compensation plans and employment agreements will have expertise in this area.

Although certain employer gifts may be taxable if their value is above a certain value, it’s unlikely that communal break areas would be characterized as fringe benefits. The communal aspect of break areas can be officially memorialized in employee handbooks.

In contrast, employer-provided health insurance is something that is generally addressed in employment contracts and employee handbooks. With the help of a lawyer, an employer can standardize its leave policies. Having such procedures in place may also go a long way toward ensuring the mental and physical health of employees.

Source: Business Journal, “How to design workspaces that support employee mental health,” Jennifer Stukenberg