Nancy Gunzenhauser Popper, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, was quoted in Law360 Employment Authority, in “EEOC's Lucas Urges 'Human Touch' to Ease Holiday Stress,” by Anne Cullen. (Read the full version – subscription required.)

Following is an excerpt:

Employers shouldn't let fears about running afoul of the law stop them from touching base with workers during the holiday season, which can be tough for workers with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission member Andrea Lucas told Law360.

A study published in 2021 by the American Psychiatric Association found that 40% of more than 2,000 adults surveyed said their stress increases during the holidays, and over a fifth said they associated the season with either stress, anxiety, sadness, or depression. …

Flexibility with remote work arrangements can also help support workers who struggle amid the holidays, experts said.

The ADA mandates that employers try to hash out a workplace adjustment that helps disabled workers — including those with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder — remain on equal footing with their peers.

For workers whose mental health conditions are aggravated amid year-end festivities, working from home is a common accommodation request, said Epstein Becker Green member Nancy Gunzenhauser Popper.

"We have a lot of clients over the past year, year and a half who have been dealing with remote requests generally, and they can see those increase at this time of year," she said.

Companies can also take a proactive approach, she added, and broadly roll out a more flexible remote policy amid the holidays. She said this ensures people whose mental conditions worsen around the end of the year don't have to bring on the added stress of discussing their struggles with their manager or human resources.

When employers are on the receiving end of a specific request, Gunzenhauser Popper said companies must consider each one seriously, and shouldn't assume that someone who is seeking a remote arrangement between Thanksgiving and New Year's is simply trying to take a vacation or shirk their work.

"Sometimes employers may be hesitant to believe that the request is necessary or is valid in some way because it feels convenient that it's over a time when someone might prefer to be traveling or like to not come in," Gunzenhauser Popper said. "But it's important for employers to remember to take all of those requests seriously and to evaluate them on an individualized basis."

"Not every employee is trying to take advantage when they request remote work," she said.

EEOC's Lucas likewise emphasized the crucial nature of taking an individualized approach with any ADA accommodation requests that come their way.

"Making assumptions as opposed to doing something on an individualized basis and in a thoughtful manner is just a fast way to screw up as an employer," Lucas said. "Everyone is going to respond to different situations differently, and there's no really no one way one processes loss or stress during the holidays."

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