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[Ed. note: In observance of Thanksgiving in the US, no blogs will be published from tomorrow through Friday. We will be back next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!]

The return-to-office (RTO) conflict between workers and employers is intensifying, with more workers filing charges of disability discrimination related to mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Employers’ denial of requests for exemptions to RTO have contributed to this surge in discrimination charges. Although employers typically approve most accommodation requests, the approval rate has decreased since the early stages of the pandemic.

Mental health requests present unique challenges, as employers are restricted from probing into specific details about disabilities. The debate surrounding RTO policies has become a major issue in workforce management, prompting concerns about discrimination when mental health accommodation requests are automatically denied due to pressure for employees to return to the office. The article linked above highlights the increase in disability cases:

“The number of charges filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination against individuals with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder rose by at least 16% for each condition from 2021 to 2022. Data from multiple state civil rights agencies show that in recent years, disability charges-encompassing a range of conditions including mental-health disorders, hearing impairments, and autoimmune diseases – have overtaken previous top complaints, such as retaliation and race discrimination.”

As we navigate the aftermath of the pandemic, businesses are establishing fresh workplace standards. This period calls for a heightened emphasis on disability inclusion. Employers providing remote work options will continue appealing to a wide array of candidates, especially those with disabilities. For companies contemplating RTO, it is crucial to ensure that such decisions are genuinely essential and to be well-prepared for potential legal challenges that may arise. To better understand disability in the workplace, check out the blog Making Room for Disability in DEI.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile