May is Mental Health Awareness month. With one in five American adults experiencing some type of mental health issue according to MentalHealth.gov, no employer is immune from the need to address the mental well-being of its employees. So what can employers do?
First and foremost, employers will want to make sure they stay in compliance with the various laws that may come into play when they have employees who are dealing with mental health issues. Next, employers should make promoting employee mental wellness a priority since it is a vital part of achieving a healthy workplace culture. While this may seem like a daunting task, one asset employers can use to support employee mental health is something they have already made a huge investment in – employee benefits!
Employers spend millions of dollars each year on employee benefits, with benefits often accounting for one-third of employee compensation costs. It’s a win-win for both employers and employees when an employer uses benefits it already offers to help promote mental health.
Health Care Benefits
Employer-sponsored health care benefits are a crucial part of an employer’s overall benefit package and are highly valued by employees. Health care benefits may also be indispensable to an employee suffering from a mental health issue.
Luckily, employer-sponsored health care plans likely include coverage for mental health. The Affordable Care Act generally requires employers to offer essential health benefits without annual or lifetime dollar limits. Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment, are considered essential health benefits.
Additionally, federal mental health parity laws require a group health plan that covers mental health and substance use disorder benefits to make sure such benefits are equivalent to the medical and surgical benefits the plan offers. For example, this means a plan must apply the same deductibles, co-payments and visit limits to both types of benefits.
These mental health parity requirements apply to group health plans with more than 50 employees that provide mental health or substance use benefits. However, some states also have their own mental health parity laws that may apply to smaller employers.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
EAPs are an important part of promoting the mental health of employees because they offer a variety of services on a confidential basis. An employee can call an EAP and speak to counselors with expertise in different areas such as psychology, finance or law.
Among other things, EAPs can help employees with combating:
- Alcohol and drug abuse;
- Depression; and
- Other mental health issues.
An EAP is most effective when it is integrated with an employer’s other benefits, such as health plans, wellness programs and disease management programs. EAPs can also provide training to management on how to effectively handle behavioral problems and to determine when they should recommend an EAP to an employee.
To encourage the use of EAPs, employers must clearly communicate that the EAP is completely confidential and that what employees reveal while using its services will not adversely affect their jobs.
Paid Time Off and Other Resources
Most employers offer some sort of paid time off benefits, which also can be helpful to employees dealing with a mental health issue. Types of paid leave may include:
- Vacation days;
- Personal days;
- Holidays; and
- Paid time off (PTO) banks.
While the bulk of benefits that would be most helpful to the mental well-being of employees may be health insurance benefits, EAPs or paid time off, there are other things an employer shouldn’t overlook promoting. For example, employers may offer helpful benefits such as discounts to gyms, skill-building courses or flexible working options.
Encouragement and Communication
Most employers have already made a substantial investment in benefit offerings that can help promote the mental health of their employees. However, offering these benefits alone is not enough. The employer also needs to encourage its employees to take advantage of all the resources and benefits in its catalog by using a wide range of forums to deliver engaging benefit messages.
What benefits do you offer to help promote the mental health of your employees? How do you encourage employees to use them?