May 03, 2012

Stress is a major issue in Canadian workplaces. While there is broad consensus that Canadians are often “stressed-out” at work and that policies are needed to reduce that stress, some stress is an unavoidable fact of life (and work) and some stress can even be beneficial. How can workplace parties separate the ordinary and beneficial types of stress from disabling stress? How can they prevent disabling stress in the workplace? And how should employers and unions deal with employees who are “stressed-out?” In this session, Lancaster’s experts will address these and the following questions:

  • Recognition and Prevention: What is the difference between the stress that is inherent in any job and stress that is harmful to an employee’s health? What do people mean when they talk about burnout? What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? What is the difference between unhealthy stress and post-traumatic stress disorder? What are the common causes of workplace stress? Long hours? Lack of control? Difficulty balancing work and family commitments? Conflict with co-workers or superiors? What are some signs that an employee is experiencing harmful levels of stress? What can employers do to reduce stress in the workplace? Is a flex-time policy helpful? What are the costs to the employer of allowing stress levels to build-up unchecked? Is 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 onstitute a “danger” justifying an employee’s refusal to work?
  • Accommodation: If an employee claims to be too stressed to continue performing his or her normal work or if a physician provides a note saying an employee needs time off due to “stress,” how should an employer respond? Is stress itself a disability that must be accommodated? Or, does it aggravate or cause other recognizable psychological disabilities? Does the law recognize a disability arising from the stress of the job itself? What is the extent of the employer’s duty to accommodate when an employee claims that ordinary stress inherent in a job aggravates another recognized disability? If an employee is disabled from performing certain job duties because of personal (non-work-related) stress, what is the employer’s duty to accommodate? What is the proper response when an employee claims that his misconduct was caused by “stress?” Should the fact that an employee was experiencing stress at the time of the misconduct be an excuse or a mitigating factor in determining discipline?
  • Medical and Psychological Information: What sort of medical/psychological information is required to trigger the duty to accommodate? How detailed must the information be in order to determine appropriate accommodation? Is a precise diagnosis of a particular mental disability necessary before the employer has a duty to accommodate? Is an independent medical exam appropriate as a means of resolving conflicting diagnoses? How should an independent medical examiner be chosen?
  • Litigation: What types of stress claims are compensable under workers’ compensation legislation? What evidence is required to establish entitlement to benefits for stress under workers’ compensation legislation? What damages have been awarded for failure to accommodate stress-related disabilities? Are punitive or aggravated damages a possibility when an employer’s failure to properly accommodate a mental disability causes the employee additional stress? Will courts award additional damages to employees who experience stress or develop a stress-related illness as a result of a bad-faith dismissal?