November 12, 2015

Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, is marked by dramatic mood swings involving extreme highs and devastating lows. It can create serious challenges at work not only for the employee living with the disorder but also for managers, co-workers, and union representatives attempting to find appropriate accommodations for the employee. In this session, a mental health expert will explain the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, and legal experts will provide guidance on meeting the duty to accommodate individuals with bipolar disorder.

  • Understanding Bipolar Disorder: What is bipolar disorder? Are there different types? How common is it in the workforce? What are the signs and symptoms of the condition that managers and coworkers are most likely to observe in someone’s behaviour at work? What signs and symptoms are likely to appear in interactions with union representatives from outside the workplace? What functional limitations in the workplace are most often associated with bipolar disorder?
  • Combatting Stigma: Why is it important for employers to educate themselves and their employees about mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, and to dispel the stigma associated with these conditions? Do employers have a legal responsibility to do so? What role should unions play in mental health education and combatting stereotypes? What are their legal duties in this regard? What practical steps can employers and unions take to educate the workforce about mental health issues and to combat stigma? Are employers acting reasonably when they assert that they more closely scrutinize employees with bipolar disorder, or other mental illnesses, in order to protect other employees from potential violence or harassment in the workplace?
  • Accommodating the Employee: What triggers the duty to accommodate? Must the employee specifically request accommodation? Or is the duty triggered as soon as an employee exhibits unusual behaviour? How should employers or union representatives approach individuals exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder about their possible need for accommodation? What medical information is the employer legally entitled to receive? For example, is it entitled to diagnoses, information on treatment, medical history? In what circumstances, if any, have adjudicators held that employers are legally entitled to require an employee with bipolar disorder to get a particular kind of treatment? What is the union’s role in the accommodation process? Does the way bipolar disorder affects an employee’s behaviour and thinking pose any particular challenges to union representatives? Generally speaking, does bipolar disorder affect an employee’s ability to participate in the accommodation process? How should employers and unions respond if an employee exhibits excessive irritability or aggressive behaviour? What types of accommodations might be helpful to employees living with bipolar disorder? In what circumstances have adjudicators found that accommodating an employee with bipolar disorder would have caused the employer undue hardship?