Mental Health Month and The State of Restaurants

According to Culinary Hospitality Outreach Wellness, 63 percent of hospitality workers suffer from depression, 84 percent feel stress from their jobs and 65 percent report using substances at work.

May is Mental Health Month – and it’s clear that millions of restaurant workers need help.  Society Insurance, which provides coverage to the hospitality industry, wants to share resources restaurants should be leveraging and implementing, such as creating an Employee Assistance Program as well as educating workers (and yourself!) about the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees qualified workers the right to unpaid leave for health and familial issues. 

FMLA covers four main situations:

  • Childbirth

  • The adoption of a child

  • Care for a seriously-ill family member

  • Care for a serious personal illness – this is where mental illness might fall under FMLA.

A ‘serious’ illness is typically defined as making a person incapable of working. At this point, you need to determine if your employee is covered under FMLA. To be eligible for coverage under FMLA, an employee must:

  • Have worked at the company for at least 12 months

  • Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the last year

  • Be employed at a company or organization with more than 50 employees

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, FMLA can be used for mental health or mental illness. Despite a clinical difference, the law makes no distinction between the two so long as your mental health or illness can be considered a serious condition. This means that it: 

  • Requires inpatient care or an overnight stay at hospitals or other treatment facilities.

  • Needs regular treatment. This can include recurring appointments with physicians, psychiatrists, or treatments like counseling and therapy.

Employers can request certification of the need for FMLA, although it’s important to understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need a diagnosis, prescription or other “proof.” A medical professional simply needs to certify that the leave is justified by the employee’s mental health or mental illness.

What if the FMLA Doesn’t Apply to the Employee?

If FMLA doesn’t apply or isn’t something your employee wants to apply for, there are two other things that could help — the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or an Employee Assistant Program (EAP). The ADA could help with accommodations that can help alleviate mental health symptoms and EAP may be able to connect employees with useful resources like counseling for free or at a reduced rate. EAPs help employees thrive by assisting them (and their families in most cases) as they address challenges that may be impacting their performance. An EAP program is completely voluntary and confidential, giving employees resources such as counseling services, substance abuse services, legal or financial services, and much more. These services are instrumental in helping employees balance work and life.  They can also help employees manage overall stress levels, regardless of life circumstances. You can encourage your employees to take advantage of these services by reinforcing the fact that they are anonymous.

Many people fear being judged for needing help or any form of counseling. By reinforcing their right to privacy they can feel confident enough to seek help for their struggles. Overall, an EAP is a relatively low cost for employers to provide which makes it an easier option to implement. 

Providing Mental Health Days

Even if an employee is having a bad mental health day, they more than likely won’t want to use their paid time off (PTO) to stay home. Adding in an option for this specific type of day off will alleviate employees’ guilty feelings about using PTO because of their mental health and help destigmatize mental healthcare in general. 

In addition to providing mental health days, encourage PTO use. Many employees don’t take their time off because they are afraid to fall behind or feel like they cannot use their PTO, but by encouraging employees to take the provided time off and restructuring the team to ensure projects stay on track, they can remove the guilt of not working. In addition to encouraging employees to take their paid time off, management should also be taking time off. If they lead by example and show the standard of taking time away to rest and recharge, then employees will follow suit. 

High stress, employee burnout and in general poor mental health can be absolutely crippling for people, employers and the business. Encourage employees to prioritize their mental health – yes, easier said than done – and your restaurant will have an infinitely stronger and happier staff.