Importance of Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace
The numbers are staggering, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada , mental health issues cost Canadian employers an estimated $50 billion a year. Half a million Canadians miss work because of mental health each week and one in three workplace disability claims in Canada are related to mental health.
Despite the increase in mental health awareness and such movements like Bell Let’s Talk, there are still many people suffering in silence in the workplace. As an employer, it is your responsibility to take reasonable steps for the health and safety of employees in your workplace. However, accommodating employees can be challenging because individuals are often nervous to disclose their mental health issues or seek treatment because of the stigma associated with mental health.
Dealing with the stigma and developing a culture where employees feel comfortable to talk openly about their mental health should be a top priority for your organization. Here are key steps to follow to maintain employees’ well-being and ensure your organization meets its legal requirements.
Safe Workplace Culture
Talking about mental health in a positive manner in the workplace makes a difference. One of the most important things your organization can do is create a culture of acceptance and understanding. Employees tend to stay silent because they are afraid of losing their jobs or being judged. It is imperative to educate your employees and create awareness, encourage acceptance and challenge false beliefs about mental health. This will help end the stigma and give employees confidence to talk about their mental health issues without fear of reprisal, judgement or isolation.
Duty to Accommodate
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have a legal obligation to accommodate employees with a “disability” in the workplace. Employers have a legislated duty to work with employees in an attempt to find a reasonable and practical solution to help and accommodate their mental health needs.
It is important to note that employers are required to accommodate employees up to the point of ‘undue hardship’, which is a very high threshold to meet.
Factors to consider for ‘undue hardship’ include:
– Employee’s ability to perform essential job functions
– Financial costs to the employer
– Size of operation and impact to the employer’s bottom line
– Effect on the organization’s operations and other employees
– Interchangeability of workforce and facilities
– Safety concerns
There may be instances where there is a reasonable and bona fide basis to deny an employee’s request for accommodation, however employers must engage in the accommodation process and attempt to reach a resolution. If an employer has concerns with the adequacy of the information that is provided, the employer may request confirmation or additional information from a qualified health care professional to obtain the information that is required. As part of the reciprocal duty to cooperate in the accommodation process, the employee must cooperate with the employer’s requests for medical information and engage in the accommodation process.
Duty to Inquire
It is a well-established principle of human rights that an employer cannot escape its duty to accommodate by turning a blind eye to evidence of an employee’s disability. While the employer does not need to have actual knowledge of an employee’s disability, the critical question is whether it was aware or ought reasonably to have been aware of the employee’s health issues, thus prompting the Duty to Inquire. It is important for employers to be mindful of employees’ changing behaviours.
For more information on mental health in the workplace and how to best handle these issues and appropriately accommodate employees, contact MaxPeople to speak with one of our Human Resources professionals.