In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Should Executives Be Screened for Mental Illness?

When it comes to leading a company, c-level executives have quite a bit of power and discretion. Apart from the legal liabilities executives and officers can incur on behalf of a company, poor decision making can lead to financial losses. As such, it makes sense for corporations to heavily vet and screen potential c-level hires.

However, a question that sometimes arises when discussing how to ensure a top executive is fit for duty is whether a company can (and should) subject top executives to mental health evaluations.

Mental Illness Doesn't Matter

When it comes to screening candidates for mental health issues, it is often overlooked that mental illnesses can sometimes help a person do better work. For instance, a CFO with OCD may be able to focus their obsessive disposition into their work and produce better results than a person without OCD. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes gathering and using mental health information a legal liability minefield. If a person has the qualifications for a c-level job, mental illness likely isn't going to matter.

However, it might be more compelling for companies to know whether an executive's judgment might be influenced by failing mental (or physical) health. This is where an objective mental health screening can play a large part. Rather than screening for illnesses though, testing an executive's memory, ability to handle pressure, stress, deadlines, and responsibilities, can prove rather valuable, not just for those who have to work under or alongside them, but also for the shareholders. Rather than a mental health test, view this as a mental acuity test.

Times Are Changing

Whereas a decade ago, a c-level executive with a mental illness would have been seen as a token figurehead, or at best, weak, times have certainly changed. The stigma associated with many typical mental health ailments are rapidly fading. Particularly at the highest levels of management, those with actual, diagnosed mental illnesses are likely to be on some form of medication, or in some type of ongoing therapy, in order to control their conditions. Some companies even recognize the (market) value of having decision-makers who personally understand the nuance of mental health issues that employees and consumers face.

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