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Osaka's French Open exit focuses on problems with work disabilities



Tennis player Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open late last month highlights employment-related mental health issues.

Ms. Osaka, ranked No. 2 in women's tennis at the time, had cited depression and anxiety for her decision not to attend a press conference after her first round match – according to the tournament organizers' demands. She withdrew from the Grand Slam tournament after being fined for her decision.

Employers are increasingly struggling with how to satisfy workers with mental anxiety when offices are opened after the increase in people vaccinated against COVID-19, experts say.

Employers should participate in an interactive process with their employees to reach a home with those who claim to have mental health issues, as required by Americans with disabilities, they say.

Ms. Osaka is not a French Open employee, and the ADA is not applicable in France, but the issues concerned reflect those that arise under the ADA.

The legislation, which was adopted in 1

997 and applies to employers with at least 15 employees, requires employers to make a reasonable adjustment to employees who report disabilities unless it entails an "unnecessary difficulty" for their business.

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is a person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can according to the law.

In Osaka's case, experts question whether news conferences should be considered as one of the tennis player's important job functions. "It's not like she asked for longer breaks between sets or games," said plaintiff's attorney Douglas Wigdor, founder of Wigdor LLP in New York. she withdrew from the tournament.

However, experts question whether an attempt could have been made to satisfy Mrs Osaka, for example by allowing her to participate in only a one-on-one interview or other accommodation. [19659002] "It is important for the employer to go through the interactive process and talk to the employee about any type of housing that may exist and explore them with him or her," said Eric Meyer, a partner at FisherBroyles LLP in Philadelphia.

"They should have done more in terms of the interactive process," said Paul E. Starkman, employment lawyer and member of the law firm Clark Hill PLC in Chicago. "There seemed to be a lot of housing that could have been done here."

The interactive process under the ADA is intended to be cooperative and not controversial, although "the employer may choose what should be reasonable accommodation," said William D. Goren, a lawyer and ADA consultant in Decatur, Georgia.

Employers may be receptive to requests from employees seeking housing due to mental health issues. These workers are less stigmatized today than they were 10 or 20 years ago, when they may not have come forward to engage in the interactive process, says Mark S. Goldstein, a partner with Reed Smith LLP in New York.

Mental health concerns arise when people return to the workplace after the pandemic, Starkman said. "You see a certain pushback" from employees who say they do not want to come back because it can aggravate or trigger a disability or can create an increased risk from an existing disability.

"I fully expect, for a variety of reasons, especially when the original return to the workplace, there will be many questions that will arise" and questions that will be asked, some of which fall within the framework of the ADA and require the interactive process, said Frank C. Morris Jr., a member of the Epstein Becker Green PC

But employers are free to distinguish disability from stress alone when evaluating ADA requests for housing. If stress is an inherent part of the job, "I think that you have to move on to other positions that cause less stress, "says Robin E. Shea, a partner with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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