Increasing public attention has been given to mental health
awareness. And employers are not exempt. Today's
employers have many employees who are affected by, directly or
indirectly, psychological illness or are at risk of psychological
hazards on the job. Sometimes these hazards can create human
resources challenges, including extended employee absences and
complex accommodation scenarios. To assist employers in
developing and promoting best practices for employees' mental
wellbeing, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in partnership
with the Standards Council of Canada, the CSA Group and the Bureau
du normalisation du Quebec, launched a nation-wide voluntary
employer standard entitled Psychological health and safety in the
workplace - Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged
implementation (the "Voluntary
Standard" or "the
standard") in January 2013.
What is the Voluntary Standard?
The Voluntary Standard sets out guidelines and recommendations
which employers can tailor to their organization for encouraging
and promoting a healthy psychological environment. It also provides
implementation advice specific for both small and large employers
should they wish to adopt the standard's
requirements. Small, medium and large employers, health care
groups, municipalities, provincial and federal ministries, and
media organizations all provided input for the Voluntary Standard
with the goal of ensuring its adaptability across the country.
Identification of Risks and Practices Affecting Psychological
The Voluntary Standard calls on an employer to draft a written
risk mitigation strategy, including steps to identify, eliminate or
mitigate psychological hazards. Factors that would impact the
strategy include, among others: psychological support,
organizational culture, leadership, an organization's
expectation of employees, civility and respect, work/life balance,
and protections against violence, bullying and harassment in the
workplace. These factors can be assessed both objectively, and
assessing workers' anecdotal experiences.
Psychological Health Promotion
As part of adopting the Voluntary Standard, an employer is
required to commit to procedures for preventing and protecting
against both physical and psychological harm. These procedures
include being sensitive to employees' work-related and
non-work-related mental health difficulties. In promoting
psychological well-being, an employer is advised by the standard
provide employees with mental health resources drafted or
created by the employer, and other resources drawn from the general
enhance awareness about mental health in the workplace by:
training employees to identify and mitigate psychological
hazards in the workplace,
educating employees on the issues of mental health stigma and
providing employees the opportunity to raise ideas and
suggestions for improvement in the employer's psychological
Managing Critical Workplace Changes and Events
The standard requires employers to establish change management
procedures that aim to limit or mitigate the psychological impact
of workplace changes such as terminations or the adoption of new
policies. Effective change management is said to include clear
communication to employees and offering employees a substantive
opportunity to engage in change management. In addition, the
Voluntary Standard requires employers to prepare for critical
events both at an individual employee level and at an
organizational level - by identifying key internal and external
resources, communication strategies, and assessing emergency and
crisis preparedness to mitigate related risks.
Investigations and Audits
The Voluntary Standard imposes the obligation to investigate and
report key psychologically harmful events including injuries,
illness, fatalities, suicides, or attempted suicide, and to review
the risk mitigation practices of an employer periodically to ensure
Should Employers Adopt the Voluntary Standard?
Employers are not required to adopt the Voluntary
Standard. Indeed, before adopting the Voluntary Standard,
employers may wish to review the standard to determine if portions
of it can assist with its goals - whether to maintain
organizational sustainability, or improve the attraction and
retention of talent. At a minimum, employers may wish to take the
opportunity to review the Standard and better understand current
views on mental health and the issues of workplace psychological
safety and risk - particularly if decision-makers start using the
Standard as a resource.
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.
A former teacher at Bodwell High School has learned a valuable lesson from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal— it is not discriminatory for an employer to offer child-related benefits to only employees with children.
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.
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