3 Things You Need to Know About Mental Health at Work

Written by on January 7, 2020 in Employment Law Blog, Employment Law Issues

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association about 50% of the population will experience a mental health issue by age 40 and in any given year, approximately 20% of Canadians will personally experience mental illness.[i] In years past, there has been considerable stigma surrounding mental illness, but now – slowly but surely – society is recognizing that mental illness needs to be treated with the same care and empathy as physical illness.

As an employer, you understand the importance of accommodating employees with physical illness and disability. The same principles apply when you have employees that are suffering from mental illness. Here are three things that you need to know about mental health in the workplace.

 1.  Employees Have Rights

One of the first things that is important to understand about mental health in the workplace is that your employees have rights. The Ontario Human Rights Code protects them from being discriminated against because of a disability – this includes mental illness and addictions.[ii]

As an employer, you have the “duty to accommodate” employees with disabilities providing that it does not cause “undue hardship” to your company. Examples of how you might accommodate an employee with a mental health issue include:

  • A more flexible work schedule or providing leave.
  • Facilitating access to counselling and community supports.
  • Job restructuring or assigning to another position.

Accommodating employees with mental illness is not only your legal responsibility, but it can also be good for your own bottom line. In fact, a study[iii] published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation showed that accommodating employees resulted in a number of benefits for the company including better employee retention and increased profitability.

2.  Mental Health Awareness Should Be Embedded in Workplace Culture

Since most of our waking hours are spent in the workplace, you can imagine that work can have a dramatic effect – positive or negative – on mental health. Establishing a workplace culture that supports mental well-being does not have to be costly or difficult.

Start by replacing any spoken or unspoken negativity surrounding mental illness with a positive message of encouragement demonstrating that the company is willing to support employees with mental illness. Does your company have a wellness program? If so, make sure that emotional well-being is valued just as highly as physical well-being.

Since workplace culture starts at the top, make sure that your management team are all giving a consistent message.

3.  Conversations About Mental Health Can Help

Ignoring the issue of mental illness in the workplace can make those suffering feel even more isolated and potentially make their symptoms worse. Opening the lines of communication can be an important first step to ending the stigma.

If management is willing to discuss their own personal issues surrounding mental health, it can make other employees feel like they have permission to open up too. Other ways to start the conversation about mental health may include employee workshops and lunch and learns, or promoting mental well-being through the employee newsletter or in communications about employee benefits.

As an employer, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to supporting your team’s mental health, but when you keep in mind these three things you’ll have a solid foundation that will ultimately lead to a healthier, happier and more productive workplace.

If you would like additional assistance in creating a workplace that supports mental health, contact Minken Employment Lawyers today.


[i] https://cmha.ca/fast-facts-about-mental-illness

[ii] http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/human-rights-and-mental-health-fact-sheet

[iii] https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-vocational-rehabilitation/jvr530


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