January 28th, 2014 by

SHOULD EMPLOYEES/EMPLOYERS TALK ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS?This month media campaigns are encouraging people to talk about mental illness.  This raises the question about whether employees should talk to their employers about mental disabilities or remain silent for fear of losing their jobs.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (Commission) in its recent paper Minds That Matter, many employees do not ask for help with a mental health issue or an addiction because they feared being discriminated at work including loss of job opportunities, increased scrutiny or dismissal.  Employees also reported being harassed by supervisors and co-workers due to their mental disability or need for accommodation.

Mental illnesses such as depression, biopolar or anxiety disorder are considered disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code.  An employee has the right not to be discriminated against due to a disability and an employer is obligated to accommodate an employee with a disability up to the point of undue hardship.

Discrimination in employment due to mental disabilities is pervasive.  People with mental health issues suffer from higher unemployment than the general population and are underemployed in part-time, low income jobs according to studies reviewed by the Commission.  The Commission also reported that persons with mental disabilities report being subjected to added performance reviews, discipline and/or dismissal from their jobs due to a mental disability.

Statistics Canada data reveals that at least 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems each week and mental illness costs the Canadian economy an estimated $51 billion each year.

We recommend that employers should create policies outlining accommodations available to employees with disabilities.  Such policies should include what assistance is available to the employee and who can they talk to when they need help.  Human Resources or Wellness managers should be involved in the accommodation process to ensure appropriate steps are taken to accommodate an employee with a mental disability.  In some circumstances, human resources should involve a mental health expert.

To reduce the costs of mental illness, employers are well advised to invest in wellness programs to maintain a healthy workplace.

Employees that feel discriminated against due to mental illness should discuss their concerns with their manager or human resources.  If the discrimination is not resolved, employees should contact the human rights tribunal or a lawyer to know their rights.

For more information about mental illness in the workplace or other inquiries regarding employment law, contact Toronto employment lawyer Meghan Ferguson at (416) 446.3343.

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