Mental Health Days – It’s a Thing
By Chakeema Cruickshank, Staff Writer
Mental health awareness has been rising in importance in our society. In the U.S, approximately 44 million Americans are dealing with a serious mental health condition. That being said, around 60 percent of individuals are not receiving the mental health care they need. This can be due to the negative stigmas that surround mental health and mental illnesses. Furthermore, mental health care is costly and it can be difficult to find accessible and affordable care.
In the workforce, many are dealing with mental health issues and struggle with conditions such as anxiety or depression. With the added stress from the pandemic and every day struggles of life, it is just as important to care for one’s mental health as well as physical health.
As a result, many companies began offering mental health days for their employees. In large part, this was due to the stressors of the pandemic and the trend of remote working. These “days off” enable employees to use their time to destress, relax, and engage in self-care. However, questions arise about how these days will be counted by employers.
New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Law: An Overview
In addition to the leave provided by employers, in New Jersey a worker may have a legal right to take days off. In New Jersey, most employers are required to provide employees with earned sick leave. This includes, but is not limited to, leave to care for yourself or for family members. In October 2018, New Jersey’s new Paid Sick Leave Law went into effect. It requires employers to grant employees one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked up to 40 hours per benefit year.
This earned sick leave, for example, can be used for mental health days. The challenge, as noted by Pew Research, is that only 76% of all US companies offer paid sick leave. The percentage of smaller firms (1-49 employees) providing paid sick leave drops to 64%.
The past two years have shown us, among other things, the importance of caring for a person’s mental health. We all need mental health days and time to recuperate and recenter. Employers should consider factoring that into their policies by adding mental health days to help care for their employees. And it’s good for worker productivity and job satisfaction.
Should mental health days be paid?
The question if then if mental health days should be paid. Just like earned sick leave is paid for, mental health days should be treated the same. One part of the stigma of mental illness is that many times mental illnesses may be invisible. But that does not make them any less serious than a physical injury or visible ailment.
The federal government provides employees with protections, such as health information privacy through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Equal Opportunity Laws through the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), and anti-discrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Mental health days should be both a short and a long term solution. Employees should be given a reasonable amount of mental health days each year, not simply now during the pandemic. The pandemic has illuminated the importance of mental health care and taking breaks.
Also, some health conditions require an employee to miss work periodically. Should this be viewed as a long term accommodation? Intermittent leave could be a potential solution. Intermittent leave specifies the frequency and duration of the expected absences, meaning how often you may be away from work, and the length of each absence. In certain cases, the leave could also specify reduced hours. However, if you are not eligible for FMLA leave, you likely won’t be eligible for an intermittent leave under a leave of absence policy. Intermittent leave can be a solution in some cases as intermittent leave is used for serious health conditions of an employee. In that instance, mental health conditions should fall under that bracket as well.
From an employer standpoint, it may seem costly to pay for mental health days. However, mental health awareness is not going away and ignoring it is incredibly expensive. Just like with other chronic illnesses, mental illness directly impacts companies with reduced productivity, increased health care costs, and reduced attendance at work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression alone is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year — costing U.S. employers anywhere from $17 to $44 billion.
We are all human and need time away sometimes. Many employers have made the business decision to provide mental health days and this trend should continue. With the incorporation of mental health days, it can also help destigmatize mental illnesses and lead to a healthier and happier life for all employees.
If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health or substance abuse, check out SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), via text message: 435748 (HELP4U), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 for resources. It is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
Staff Writer Chakeema Cruickshank is currently a first year at Rutgers Law School Camden. Prior to Rutgers Law, she worked for United States Senator Robert Menendez doing constituent relations and outreach for education, environment, and technology.