November 14, 2013

Anger is a natural, and sometimes even productive, reaction in certain situations. However, sometimes individuals become angry in inappropriate situations or express their anger in inappropriate ways. Sometimes individuals are said to have “anger management problems,” but is an anger management problem a disability to be accommodated, a health and safety concern or a pattern of misconduct that must be corrected. In this session legal experts will be joined by a mental health professional to address these fundamental questions and the following:

    • Understanding anger: What is the difference between getting mad and having an anger management problem? Is an anger management problem a disability according to the DSM-5, the standard guide to diagnosing mental disorders? When will angry outbursts be symptomatic of other mental illnesses, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or addiction? Is an “anger management problem,” or any type of anger-related condition, recognized as a disability for the purposes of determining whether accommodation in the workplace is required? What types of treatments or training have been successful in reducing incidents of anger or aggression?
    • Anger as a health and safety issue: What obligations does an employer have under occupational health and safety law to protect employees from verbal and physical aggression? Should expressions of anger in the workplace always be categorized as aggression? When are comments uttered in anger harassment? Do the comments have to be directed at someone in particular to be considered harassment? Are threats made in anger grounds for discharge even if the employee had no intention of carrying-out the threats? How should a workplace reporting system be structured to allow employees to express their concerns about anger and aggression by other employees? When, if ever, would an employer be justified in requiring an employee who has had an outburst to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation to prove that he or she is not a threat to workplace health and safety?
    • Anger as a human rights issue: What medical evidence would be necessary to prove that an employee’s problem with anger is a disability that must be accommodated under human rights legislation to the point of undue hardship? What sorts of accommodations may be appropriate for an employee whose psychological illness has been causing anger-based misconduct in the workplace – a leave of absence? Modification of responsibilities? Reduction in stressful duties? When will the employer have reached the point of undue hardship due to a risk to the safety of other employees in the workplace?
    • Correcting the problem: What disciplinary responses are appropriate when an employee engages in anger-related misconduct that is not linked to a disability? Should an employee who utters threats in anger automatically be discharged? When are angry responses to supervisors or management misconduct that should be disciplined? How should provocation be taken into account when assessing discipline for anger-related misconduct? What role does remorse or a willingness to apologize play in determining the appropriate disciplinary response? How should an employer respond if disciplinary sanctions provoke more angry conduct by the employee? Is requiring an employee to undergo counselling or communication training an appropriate response to an employee who has engaged in anger-related misconduct? What can employees do if they are targets of a supervisor’s angry outbursts? What should unions do? What should senior management do with a supervisor who has an anger management problem?