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Should your mental health issues cause you concern at work?

Everyone feels a little blue from time to time. But when depression or any mental illness becomes pervasive, it might interfere with every facet of life, which may include an individual's job duties.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues. However, society has made leaps and bounds into understanding those issues and so, too, have employers. But if an employee has mental health concerns, it's important for both to be aware of their workplace rights and duties.

Honesty is the best policy

An employer can't read thoughts, and as someone dealing with a mental health issue, an employee may try to dismiss the severity of what he or she is going through for fear of reprisal or embarassment.

But, the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that employees should share your mental health condition or concerns with their employer. If you're an employee, you should let your manager know if you feel you can't perform your job duties or if you feel your judgment is affected because of your state of mind.

Don't Fear Dismissal

Employers in Canada can't fire you, discriminate against you or discipline you for having a mental illness. There are certain safety-fueled industries (like workers on airplanes, for instance) where that is an exception. Instead, it's incumbent upon the employer to help and accommodate you. The following are some examples of what being accommodating means and what it doesn't mean:

  • Your employer should talk to you about your mental health situation and try to find a practical solution for you if you have any medical restrictions.
  • Your employer should try fervently to allow you to continue to perform your job in a way that is acceptable to both of you.
  • If your employer can show that accommodating your needs would be nearly impossible, they would be excused from doing so.

Ignorance isn't bliss

If your employer believes you're struggling with your mental health, they can't pretend the problem is non-existent. Called a "duty to inquire," your employer should intervene if they believe you're concerned about your mental health.

For instance, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal found that a company should not have dismissed an employee whose depression was affecting her ability to perform her job. The tribunal said the employer should have realized the employee was having difficulties, but failed to ask questions, so they did not exercise their duty to inquire.

Look into reporting options

Your employer may have a process in place that would allow you to confidentially disclose medical issues. In addition, they may have things in place like disability insurance and wellness programs. An employee handbook should spell these things out.

Unfortunately, there will still be incidents in which an employer may wrongfully dismiss or discriminate against an employee who is suffering some form of mental illness. In these situations, there are resources available who can help you understand all of your legal options and to seek justice if it's deemed the most appropriate course of action for your particular set of circumstances.

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