“Psychological health and safety in the workplace –
Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation”
has been released as a new National Standard by the Canadian
Standards Association (“CSA”), the Bureau de
normalisation du Quebec and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
The Standard is currently voluntary, although it is common for CSA
standards to make their way into legislation and regulation. It
establishes best practices for employers to address mental health
issues in their workplaces.
The Standard offers a step-by-step approach to developing a
psychologically healthy workplace. The steps include:
Identification and elimination of psychological hazards in the
workplace (factors to assess include organizational culture, job
demands, leadership, clarity of expectations, workload management,
engagement, protection from violence, bullying and
Assessment and control of risks in the workplace associated
with hazards that cannot be eliminated;
Implementation of practices that support and promote
psychological health and safety in the workplace;
Growing a culture that promotes psychological health and safety
in the workplace; and
Monitoring and evaluating the workplace’s achievement of
targets and taking preventative and corrective action as
The Standard is the first of its kind in the world. From a risk
management standpoint, it addresses many of the concerns that
Canadian adjudicators already have raised in considering complaints
involving discrimination based on mental illness. In 2008, for
example, the Divisional Court (of the Ontario Superior Court of
Justice) faulted an employer for its lack of awareness of its
responsibilities under the Human Rights Code, including
the absence of any policies or training of managers. The Court
ordered substantial damages to the employee and imposed public
interest remedies against the employer found to have discriminated
against an employee with bipolar disorder. In addition to
developing an anti-discrimination and harassment policy, the public
interest remedies included the retention of a consultant to train
all managers and employees of their human rights obligations with a
particular focus on accommodation of persons with mental health
issues.1 Although novel, the Standard has a foundation
in existing Canadian case law.
Statistics on the high costs associated with employee
absenteeism and the prevalence of mental illness as the cause for
such absenteeism further support the Standard. Employers who get it
“right” with psychologically health workplaces stand to
benefit by reducing their employee absenteeism which costs the
Canadian economy millions of dollars each year.
Although the Standard glosses over this, mental health issues
can be truly challenging for employers to address. They often are
invisible disabilities and, given their past stigma, sensitivity is
critical. Privacy interests must be considered and balanced as part
of the accommodation process. The undue hardship standard is high
and tends to conflict with the pressure on management and employers
to increase productivity and efficiency by doing more with less.
Even so, there is much to be gained by promoting mental health in
the workplace. Employers are well-advised to consider the Standard
as a resource to achieve both the benefits and mitigation of risk
associated with a psychologically healthy workplace.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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