July 12, 2018

Stress, like other workplace hazards, can adversely affect employees’ health, making them more susceptible to both physical and mental illnesses; it can also cause employees to become dissatisfied and quit their jobs. In light of these facts, employers, unions, and regulators are increasingly recognizing workplace stress as both a serious occupational health and safety hazard and a significant labour relations concern. In this session, a leading expert on workplace stress will join experienced labour lawyers to address occupational health and safety, human rights, and labour relations issues that arise as a result of workplace stress. Questions to be addressed include:

Defining stress and its causes:

  • How do medical and psychological authorities define stress, overwork, and burnout?
  • How significant is workplace stress as a health hazard? Is workplace stress really killing people?
  • What are the common causes of workplace stress, overwork, and burnout? To what degree is workplace stress caused by systemic issues, such as understaffing and the general organization and governance of workplaces? To what degree is it more of an “individual issue” dependent on individual employees’ abilities to cope with stress?

Reducing stress, and preventing overwork and burnout:

  • Is the legal perspective on workplace stress in Canada changing? Are adjudicators now more likely to recognize workplace stress as a serious workplace health and safety issue? Will they award damages to employees who have suffered stress as a result of unreasonable management decisions?
  • What are some signs that workers are experiencing unhealthy levels of stress? What is the appropriate response when managers, supervisors, union representatives, or health and safety committee members notice these signs?
  • What are the best practices for preventing or reducing stress, overwork, and burnout in the workplace? What role is there for the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace?

Stress leave, statements made in the heat of the moment, and accommodation:

  • Is “stress” a disability that must be accommodated? Does the legal definition of disability require a diagnosis of a recognized medical or psychological disorder? Does stress qualify as an illness for the purposes of taking sick leave?
  • What role does stress play in adjudicators’ assessments of statements, such as insubordinate comments and hasty resignations, made in the heat of the moment?
  • Where accommodation necessitates a reduction in stress, what accommodations are helpful? What types of accommodation measures would constitute undue hardship to the employer? Are employers required to change performance standards or reduce workloads for stressed employees? Are they required to transfer an employee or a supervisor where a supervisor is a source of stress for an employee?