December 19, 2013

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but many people experience anxiety that goes well beyond butterflies in the stomach before giving a speech or nervousness in a new situation. Around 12% of Canadians are affected by anxiety disorders that cause mild to severe impairment in daily living, and many mental health professionals speculate that the incidence of anxiety disorders has been increasing rapidly in recent years. Despite this prevalence, people with anxiety disorders continue to be highly stigmatized, causing many affected individuals to lead “lives of quiet desperation,” attempting to cope with their disabilities without requesting appropriate accommodation. In this session experienced legal counsel will join an expert psychologist/psychiatrist to discuss ways to recognize and accommodate employees living with anxiety disorders. They will also discuss ways to prevent working conditions from causing or exacerbating such disorders.

    • Understanding anxiety disorders: What is the difference between anxiety and an “anxiety disorder?” What is the difference between stress and anxiety? What are the characteristics of the six main types of anxiety disorders that affect adults? What are “panic attacks,” and how are they related to anxiety disorders? Has the DSM-5 added any new anxiety disorders or made any changes to the criteria for diagnosing disorders that were recognized in the DSM-IV? What anxiety disorders have been recognized in the case law as disabilities under human rights legislation? What other types of mental illnesses do individuals with anxiety disorders typically also experience? What stereotypes are associated with anxiety disorders? Do employers and/or unions have a legal responsibility to counteract stereotypical views held by employees/members?
    • Prevention: What is the relationship between workplace stress and anxiety disorders? Can it cause employees to develop anxiety disorders? When might workplace stress exacerbate anxiety disorders? What can unions and employers do to identify and address workplace factors that may cause or contribute to an employee’s anxiety? Should workplaces adopt the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in order to prevent psychological harm to employees and to assist employees living with anxiety disorders?
    • Recognition: What are the signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder that an employee is most likely to exhibit at work? Is an employer under a legal duty to inquire about an employee’s mental health if he or she is exhibiting such behaviours? If supervisors or union representatives suspect someone has an anxiety disorder, how should they discuss the issue with that person without leaving themselves open to claims of constructive discrimination?
    • Accommodation: What information is required to trigger the duty to accommodate? Is a precise diagnosis of a particular anxiety disorder necessary? What medical information is the employer legally entitled to request in order to assess accommodation options (and what must the employee provide)? 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 mental illness? Why is it important not to make assumptions about an employee’s limitations and need for accommodation? Even though every person will be different, are there certain functional limitations employees with anxiety usually experience? What common accommodations might be helpful for an employer to offer? In what ways might anxiety disorders affect an employee’s ability to participate in the accommodation process? Does the way anxiety affects an employee’s behaviour pose any particular challenges to unions representing employees with depression? When will accommodation create an undue hardship for an employer?