May 28, 2015

Stress and anxiety are major health concerns. Approximately 12% of Canadians are affected by anxiety disorders that cause mild to severe impairment in daily living, and more than one in four Canadian workers report being highly stressed. In this session, experienced lawyers will join a mental health expert to discuss ways to monitor and reduce workplace stress and to accommodate employees living with anxiety disorders. They will also discuss compensation available to employees who are not appropriately accommodated and employees who become ill as a result of workplace stress.

  • Defining the issue: What is the difference between stress and anxiety? What is the relationship between workplace stress and anxiety? What are the main types of anxiety disorders that affect adults, and how prevalent are they in the workforce? How does one measure and rate an employee’s stress or anxiety level? Does the law require a diagnosis of a specific medical disorder in order for anxiety or stress to be considered disabilities?
  • Prevention: Do employers have a legal duty to ensure that the way they manage the workplace does not mentally injure employees (including a duty to ensure that management of the workplace does not cause undue stress)? Should workplaces adopt the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace? Could adoption of the standard increase an employer’s legal liability? In what ways can the organization and governance of a workplace contribute to unhealthy stress or anxiety levels? What are some best practices for reducing workplace stress or anxiety? What are the first steps employers, unions, and individual employees should take towards reducing and preventing unnecessary stress and anxiety in the workplace?
  • Accommodation: What are the signs that an employee is experiencing anxiety or an unhealthy level of stress? What is the role of the union in helping employees deal with anxiety and stress? What medical information is it reasonable for an employer to request when an employee requires time off or accommodation for stress or anxiety? How should an employer deal with a medical note that simply says an employee needs time off “due to stress”? How can an employee be accommodated when the workplace itself, or someone in the workplace (i.e. a manager or coworker), is the source of the employee’s stress or anxiety? Even though every person will be different, are there certain functional limitations employees with anxiety usually experience? How might anxiety or stress affect an employee’s work performance? In order to meet the duty to accommodate, must an employer modify performance expectations? What common accommodations might be helpful for an employer to offer? Would moving an employee to a less stressful position within the organization, or removing stressful aspects of the employee’s job, constitute undue hardship?
  • Compensation: Can employees who are disabled by chronic workplace stress and/or develop a recognized mental illness as a result of chronic stress obtain compensation under workers’ compensation legislation? How does entitlement to such compensation vary by province? What remedies have been awarded for failure to accommodate anxiety or stress-related disabilities? Are punitive or aggravated damages available when an employer’s failure to properly accommodate an employee causes the employee additional mental harm?