Mental illness in the workplace can take many forms including,
but not limited to, depression, personality disorders, and alcohol
or drug dependence.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, workplace
absenteeism resulting from mental illness has risen from 30% to 50%
over the last 15 years. Statistics Canada notes that a worker
suffering from depression will be unable to perform his or her
normal work duties for an average of 32 days in any given year.
Employers are therefore faced with managing an increased number
of employees suffering from mental illness and the obligation to
accommodate such employees. As is the case with many workplace
issues, proper management is key. Below you will find a list of dos
and don'ts when managing an employee with mental illness.
Analyse the position and job responsibilities;
Adapt work conditions (such as flexible work schedule, change in
supervision, and modifications to tasks);
Adopt a clear alcohol and drug policy;
Adopt a policy which delineates reasonable readjustment periods
and maximum length of absence prior to end of employment
Adopt an Employee Assistance Program;
Require medical documentation to justify absences;
Have the employee undergo a medical assessment ;
Perform follow-ups with the employee and his doctor;
Offer time off for employee to receive treatment;
Refer the employee to a specialist in order to determine how
best to adapt/modify work conditions;
Negotiate a "last-chance" agreement, where
appropriate, which explicitly provides for termination in cases of
Perform a full investigation prior to termination.
Forget that mental illness is a handicap/disability and
therefore is an enumerated ground of discrimination in human rights
Jump to conclusions prior to meeting with the employee;
Opt for disciplinary measures right from the start
(coaching/counselling will be more appropriate in many cases);
Expect a full recovery after the first intervention;
Restrict the length of accommodation measures too strictly
within a policy;
Generalize accommodation measures, as each employee situation
should be analysed on a case by case basis;
Leave the employee to identify/implement the accommodation
Unnecessarily share private information with supervisors, or
Individualized accommodation is critical to managing mental
illness in the workplace. Employers are entitled to seek
appropriate medical evidence justifying absences but once provided
with such documentation, should work with the employee to implement
measures that are most likely to lead to successful re-integration
or attendance in the workplace.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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