November 26, 2014

Stress, anxiety and depression have a profound impact on Canadian workplaces, contributing to lost productivity, absenteeism and workplace conflict. Despite the prevalence of these mental health issues, they remain misunderstood and highly stigmatized. As a result, many employees do not seek help or accommodation for these conditions. Moreover, employers and unions face unique challenges in accommodating stress, anxiety and depression because these disabilities are episodic (resulting in periods of health and of illness) and invisible (not readily apparent). In this audio conference, Lancaster’s panel of experts will discuss ways to recognize and accommodate stress, anxiety and depression as well as proactive measures to improve mental health in the workplace. Topics to be addressed include:

  • Recognizing and understanding stress, anxiety and depression: What is the difference between stress, anxiety and depression? Are they related to one another? Are stress and anxiety recognized mental disorders? What are telltale signs that an employee is experiencing harmful levels of stress, anxiety or depression? How can an employer distinguish between an employee who is simply unable to handle the normal “stress” of the job and an employee with a disability requiring accommodation? What effect does workplace stress have on an employee with a pre-existing disorder, such as anxiety or depression? What are some common functional limitations of employees who have a disability related to stress, anxiety or depression?
  • Preventing mental illness and promoting mental health: Is the failure to address or reduce high levels of stress a breach of the employer’s obligation to maintain a safe and healthy workplace? Does workplace stress or anxiety related to job duties constitute a “danger” justifying an employee’s refusal to work? How can employers and unions identify workplace factors that may cause or contribute to an employee’s stress, anxiety or depression? What measures does the Mental Health Commission of Canada recommend to support and promote mental health in the workplace? What are some examples of workplace policies and practices that reduce stress and anxiety? Is a flex-time policy helpful? How can workplace parties ensure that mental health problems related to stress, anxiety and depression are identified at an early stage? Are employee assistance programs helpful?
  • Medical information and evaluation: What information does an employer need to have before the duty to accommodate is triggered? Is a precise diagnosis of a particular mental disability necessary? Is stress in and of itself a disability that must be accommodated? If an employee provides a note from a family doctor saying she or he needs time off due to stress, anxiety or depression, how should an employer respond? Can an employer require information from a specialist? What about an independent medical examination?
  • Accommodation: What alterations to job duties should an employer or union consider in order to accommodate an employee with a disability related to stress, anxiety or depression? Must an employer alter performance standards or productivity targets? Must an employer transfer an employee to another position where the source of the employee’s unhealthy stress or anxiety is conflict with a supervisor or co-worker? What if the source of stress or anxiety is the employee’s job duties? Once accommodations have been implemented, how and when should they be reviewed? Should a formal review be scheduled, or should accommodation be monitored and revised informally? What obligation does a disabled employee have to participate in the accommodation process? How might a disability related to stress, anxiety or depression inhibit an employee’s ability to participate in the accommodation process? Does an employee have a duty to make use of assistance offered by an employer, such as counselling services?
  • Discipline and discharge: Must an employer inquire as to whether stress, anxiety or depression is contributing to performance or productivity problems before disciplining an employee? What should an employer do if an employee claims that stress, anxiety or depression contributed to his or her misconduct? Does it matter if the conduct is violent? When is an employer justified in discharging an employee on a prolonged leave of absence due to stress, anxiety or depression? At what point can an employer demonstrate that accommodating an employee’s stress, anxiety or depression is causing undue hardship?