October 23, 2018

Despite its prevalence, employers, unions, and co-workers are often at a loss to help employees with depression. Employees experiencing depression may be hesitant to seek help because of the stigma that still attaches to mental health conditions, or they may not even realize the extent of their depression or its impact on their work. Workplace parties interested in overcoming the hurdles to effectively dealing with depression in the workplace will benefit from this session featuring an expert account of the latest research on supporting employees with depression and analysis of the latest caselaw dealing with this complex issue.

Recognizing depression and helping employees stay at work:

  • What is the effect of depression on an employee’s ability to work and on the workplace as a whole? What role do workplace policies and culture play in mental health, the development of mental illness, and recovery from mental illness?
  • What role should the workplace play in early recognition of employees experiencing depression and assisting such employees in obtaining professional help? What can be done to foster a workplace culture that reduces stigma and encourages employees with depression to seek help and accommodation?
  • How can supervisors or union representatives broach the subject of mental health with employees without violating employees’ privacy rights or exposing themselves to claims of discrimination on the basis of perceived disability?
  • Given that performance problems are often an early sign an employee is experiencing depression, does the employer have an obligation to inquire as to whether depression is contributing to such problems before implementing a “performance improvement plan” or disciplining an employee? Should unions routinely ask about potential mental health problems when members come to them with complaints about performance improvement plans or discipline?

Accommodations, sick leave, and return to work

  • Should employees be encouraged to stay at work with modified hours or performance expectations while they wait to receive assistance from specialists? How and when should accommodations be reviewed?
  • Does an employer’s duty to accommodate extend to paying for treatment proven to be effective in helping employees with depression stay at work?
  • When should employees be placed on sick leave instead of being offered accommodations to stay at work?
  • What role does communication play in ensuring that an employee, absent due to depression, returns to work? What is the difference between supportive and unsupportive communication – or between appropriate communication and harassment? What must be done to respect an employee’s privacy rights?
  • What accommodations are most likely to help an employee return to work and stay at work? What accommodations would constitute undue hardship?
  • How can employers and unions respond to co-workers’ questions or comments about accommodations, modified hours or modified duties, or absences without violating the accommodated or absent employee’s privacy?