On the heels of its recently updated policy on Gender
Identity/Gender Expression, the Ontario Human Rights Commission
(OHRC) has now released a new policy to provide guidance on how to
define, assess, handle and resolve human rights issues related to
mental health and addiction disabilities. The full Policy can be
The OHRC's new Policy builds on its Policy and Guidelines on
Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, applying the same
principles to people with mental health issues or addictions. The
new Policy recognizes that people with mental health disabilities
are entitled to the same level of protection as people with
physical disabilities, and is reflective of the prevalence of
mental illness and addiction in Canada today. The OHRC cites
research estimating that one in five Canadians will experience a
mental illness or addiction.
Given these statistics, most employers will need to
provide assistance or accommodation to an employee dealing with
mental illness or addiction. A full review of the OHRC's new
Policy is therefore recommended. The Policy provides insight into
recognizing mental health and addiction issues and provides
examples of appropriate accommodation in such circumstances.
Also important for employers to note is the emphasis placed on
employer responsibility for the overall work environment. The new
Policy makes clear that the obligations of employers do not end
with their own accommodation efforts, but rather extend to
maintaining a workplace that is free from discrimination and
harassment of individuals with a mental health disability or
addiction. There is also a clear duty on employers not to condone
or further a discriminatory act that has taken place, and to
properly respond when others engage in discriminatory
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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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