July 12, 2012

Winston Churchill, despite being one of the most successful leaders in British history, often struggled with a condition he called ‘the black dog,’ i.e. depression. Despite its prevalence, depression remains misunderstood and highly stigmatized. The stigma surrounding depression and its episodic nature pose serious difficulties for employers, unions and employees attempting to achieve appropriate workplace accommodation. Our panel of experts will discuss ways to recognize and accommodate employees with depression as well as methods of reducing stigma and discrimination.

  • Recognizing Depression: What are the characteristics of depression, and how common is it in the workforce? Are there different types of depression? What other types of mental illnesses are associated with depression and how often do these conditions occur with depression? How can managers, co-workers and union representatives recognize depression in the workplace? What are the signs and symptoms of the illness that you are most likely to observe in someone’s behaviour at work? What functional limitations will employees with depression most often experience?
  • Stereotypes, Discrimination and Communication: What stereotypes are associated with depression? What legal responsibility do employers and unions have to address stereotypical views held by employees/members? What is the employer’s duty to inquire into an employee’s health if it suspects the employee may be experiencing depression? How should employers or union representatives approach such individuals? Why might an employee be reluctant to disclose that he or she has depression and how does reluctance to disclose such information affect the duty to accommodate? What medical information is the employer legally entitled to receive in order to provide appropriate accommodation? Why might an employer not be entitled to information regarding a specific diagnosis? Is it reasonable for employers to be skeptical about diagnoses from employees’ family physicians or is employer skepticism in such cases the result of stereotypical assumptions about depression?
  • Accommodation: What obligation do employers have to accommodate employees experiencing depression? Must employers proactively eliminate workplace practices that may adversely affect employees with depression? What common accommodations might be helpful for an employer to offer? Why is it important not to make assumptions about the employee’s limitations and need for accommodation? When will accommodation create an undue hardship for an employer? How much absenteeism and/or reduced productivity must an employer accept? Must an employer accommodate an employee whose depression causes him or her to behave erratically or to become short-tempered and utter threats? When must an employee make use of assistance and accommodations offered by the employer? When is an employee justified in refusing assistance and accommodation offered by the employer? Does the burden of demonstrating fitness to work after an absence due to depression rest on the employee? What role does the union play in accommodating an employee with depression? Does the way depression affects an employee’s behaviour pose any particular challenges to unions representing employees with depression?