Mental Illnesses and Support in the Workplace

Mental Illnesses and Support in the Workplace

Over the course of five years sharing an office, Ian and Sam had become good friends. They attended one another’s weddings, went to the occasional baseball game together, and while they weren’t extremely close, they got along well and were happy to have developed such a nice camaraderie at work. 

In September of 2018, Ian was absent for two weeks. After a few days, Sam was concerned and sent Ian an email. Ian simply stated that he wasn’t feeling well, and hoped to be back to work soon. After his return to the office, Sam checked in with him again, seeing how he was doing and offering any help he could. It was then that Ian confided in Sam about his battle with depression. 

Ian didn’t know what to do. He had not had a major bout of depression in a couple of years but was feeling worse as of late. He was fearful of needing to take more time off in the future and worried about how it would affect his job security. Without a physical illness, he did not know if he would be taken seriously. He was not entirely comfortable around his boss and manager and felt that there was a stigma around mental illness that was not an easy hurdle to confront. 

Sam felt terrible. He urged Ian to speak to their human resources department and felt confident that those above him would understand. He vowed to support Ian in any way he could and began by doing some research. 

Sam learned that in Canada the laws state that you do not have to tell your employers what is causing a disability, but simply that you are experiencing health challenges that require you to have certain accommodations. Your employer may need further information from your healthcare provider about the challenges you face, but they do not need your diagnosis.

He also learned that in Ontario, the Human Rights Code protects all individuals from discrimination and harassment due to mental health disabilities and addictions. 

What Sam found most interesting was that when it comes to accommodating an employee with a mental illness, the duty legally falls on the employer. Generally, with regards to physical illness, the process of accommodation to specific needs will begin with the person affected asking for help. However, Ontario recognizes that the nature of a mental health disability often prohibits an individual from asking for assistance, and therefore if an employer believes that someone has a disability, it is their responsibility to step in. Some examples of accommodation include work hour flexibility, having support person contact information available, allowing time off to attend addictions programs, and assistance in finding available resources. 

Armed with this information, and the support of a close friend and colleague, Ian felt confident approaching the management of his office and disclosing his health issues. With their understanding and assistance, Ian was at ease knowing that his job security would not be affected by his illness. 

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