Promoting Mental Health-Friendly Workplaces — for Everyone

Five workers sit at a table facing a laptop. They are sitting in front of a window and laughing.

Recently, I got to sit down and listen to families share their stories – families who had struggled and fought mightily to access the mental health care they and their loved ones needed. 

July is Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month – a time to explore important mental health issues impacting racial and ethnic minority groups and to promote mental health equity for everyone everywhere, including in their workplace. People from marginalized populations face inequities accessing needed mental health support. In 2021, among people aged 18 or older, only 39.4% of Black individuals and 36.1% of Hispanic individuals with mental health conditions received mental health services in the previous year, compared to 52.4% of white individuals with mental health conditions.  

At the Department of Labor, we are committed to advancing mental health resources and fostering supportive workplaces that prioritize mental health. In that spirit, we recently launched our Mental Health at Work initiative to centralize and promote related resources for employers and workers. 

The Mental Health at Work initiative not only helps employers understand what they can do to support worker mental health, but also what they must do, by law. This includes complying with the requirements of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). Enforced by our Employee Benefits Security Administration, this law requires that the financial requirements (such as copays) and treatment limitations (such as limits on the number of visits) imposed on mental health or substance use disorder benefits not be more restrictive than those for medical and surgical benefits. In other words, if an employer-sponsored plan offers mental health and substance use disorder benefits, it must do so without any additional barriers that don’t apply to the same way they cover physical benefits.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act is about increasing access to mental health treatment for all workers, including those from historically marginalized communities, and it’s a priority of the Biden-Harris administration. On July 25, the Department of Labor, along with the departments of Health and Human Services and the Treasury, proposed rules under MHPAEA to better ensure that people seeking coverage for mental health and substance use disorder care can access treatment as easily as people seeking coverage for physical medical treatments. The Department of Labor also released information on their continued enforcement efforts related to MHPAEA, including with regard to treatment limitations known as nonquantitative treatment limitations, such as prior authorizations and medical management.

Another priority is ensuring people with mental health conditions can access supports they may need to succeed at work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, covered employers are required to provide such reasonable accommodations to people with mental health conditions. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables a person with a disability to apply for or perform a job. For someone with a mental health condition, this might mean the ability to work remotely, take breaks or access leave for medical appointments, to name a few examples.

Accommodations are actually one of four pillars of an employer framework we call the “4 A’s of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace”:
     1.    Accommodations
     2.    Awareness
     3.    Assistance
     4.    Access

The 4 A’s are the core of a mental health guide for employers developed by our Office of Disability Employment Policy in collaboration with its Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion. This guide was recently updated to address issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic – including Long COVID’s impact on mental health – as well as how employers can ensure their mental health initiatives respect differing experiences of employees from all backgrounds.

As I said in our Mental Health at Work PSA, work is about more than wages. It's also about a sense of purpose, meaning and belonging. As Acting Secretary of Labor, I'm committed to creating an inclusive workplace culture, not only within the department's already diverse workforce, but in the nation's workforce as well. This requires equipping them with the tools and resources they need to do so in a way that is equitable and accounts for the lived experiences of minorities and those from underserved communities. For us, it's a priority, every month of the year.

Julie A. Su is the acting secretary of labor.