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Human Rights and Mental Health

The Ontario Human Rights Code outlines numerous rights and responsibilities for the manner in which Ontarians interact with each other in various settings. For the purposes of this paper, the focus must be on Employment and human rights, and in particular the consideration of disabilities in hiring an individual and also in the handling of a disability that may arise while an individual is employed.

The Ontario Human Rights Act states as follows:
5.-(1) Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or handicap [emphasis added].1

While I have put the emphasis on the word “handicap” above, there is no doubt that discrimination in the workplace due to race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, or family status can also lead to the development of mental health conditions or a “handicap” that might result in disability. Whether or not systemic discrimination in the workplace may be covered by workers’ compensation is yet another potential developing area to be explored as discussed in the previous section of this paper.

A “handicap” has been defined as follows:

1. Is the condition permanent or ongoing? A temporary condition is not a disability unless it recurs as part of a medical condition.
2. Is the condition so serious that it restricts life’s important functions, such as the ability to do a job, basic mobility or family life?
3. The Commission may consider whether the condition is common to the broader public.

For example, the common cold, no matter how severe, is not a disability.A condition may be considered a disability based on these three factors. For example, serious allergies, environmental sensitivities or clinical depression [emphasis added] may be considered disabilities after consideration of the three factors.

A review of material from the Ontario Human Rights Commission reveals that approximately 75% of human rights complaints arise out of situations in the workplace. A significant portion of such complaints revolve perceived discrimination regarding a person’s “handicap”.

With the growing number of human rights cases, and the anticipated changes in the legislation that will expand the potential for recovery of damages through the courts, the leakage of employment, human rights and disability insurance claims will probably be significant.



1 Guide to Human Rights Code, Ontario Human Rights Commission, Prepared by the Policy and Education Branch Approved by the Commission: May 26, 1999