Employee Mental Health
Madalyn Parker, an employee of Olark Live Chat made the news recently. She needed a couple of mental health days off and wrote an email to her coworkers explaining this. Her CEO replied to her, thanking her for her openness about this taboo subject. Madalyn posted this exchange on Twitter and what resulted next was a media storm. This story about employee mental health went viral.
Why? Because this is an admirable example of a workplace that promotes mental health awareness. This employer encourages employees to take advantage of their sick leave entitlements.
As employment lawyers with over 35 years in the business, we know this is not the norm. Many workplaces refuse to accept employee mental health as a problem. They discriminate against employees suffering from anxiety and depression, often exacerbating the nature of the illness.
Why Employee Mental Health Problems Occur
A global economy, technology with instant 24/7 connectivity and a growing precarious job market all contribute to workplaces that are competitive and operating at lightning speed. Layer on top of this multiple types of problems people face in their personal lives. A death in the family, an ill child, marital strife or debt management problems. Slowly, a picture emerges of people unable to perform at peak. And this is usually the genesis of employee mental health problems. People are simply unable to cope with stress coming at them from multiple fronts.
Short Term Disability for Employee Mental Health
Employees fortunate to receive health benefit coverage are taking short term disability leave with increasing frequency. The top mental health reasons for short term disability claims are anxiety and depression. Benefits like these should tie you over with financial support when you need it the most, when you are unable to work.
But do they? Most claims for mental health problems are outright denied. It does not matter whether a medical professional diagnosed you or if your forms were filled out correctly. Even though the insurance company administers the program, it leaves the relationship between employees and employers very strained. Denied disability claims often require an experienced employment lawyer to step in because your employment benefits are an enforceable part of your employment agreement. Your employer, or their representative at the insurance company cannot withhold them without valid reasons.
Employee Mental Health & Workplace Harassment
Applying for and receiving disability benefits is usually the start of a very long battle. For many such employees, the problem gets magnified after they return back to work. Whether you return with or without an accommodation plan from your doctor, many managers and human resource personnel will start comparing you to the person who filled in for you during your absence. They may see an opportunity to clean shop.
This is where the intimidation, workplace harassment and discrimination starts. You may purposely be thrown more work than you can handle, excluded from meetings or subjected to malicious gossip. They hope to force your hand into quitting. This is completely against the law and classic circumstances that lead to a toxic work environment and eventually a constructive dismissal lawsuit. In extreme cases, the very illness you took time off for may return or get worse!
Canada’s Laws Protect You
Fortunately, Canadian laws provide strong protections for employees experiencing mental health discrimination at work. In addition, our courts have held employers liable for exemplary damages when they intentionally inflicted mental distress on employees.
With the case Saadati v. Moorhead, the Supreme Court of Canada advanced the law for mental injury claims much further. They ruled that claimants no longer require proof of a recognized psychiatric illness to claim damages for mental injury. This development places emphasis on symptoms and their effects, rather than on a mental health diagnosis. The Saadati decision does away with the need for expensive expert witnesses to advance a claim for mental injury. This is a welcome development for Canadian workers.
What Workplaces Can do about Employee Mental Health
Employee mental health is an issue all workplaces should get a grasp on. It is the leading cause for employee absenteeism and reduced productivity. The best way to manage this is to prevent it from setting in, in the first place. Workplaces can ensure all employees are properly supported in their jobs; they should nip toxic workplace culture in the bud and positively discuss employee mental health, just like Madalyn Parker and her CEO did.
Canadian laws are certainly evolving to reflect our understanding and appreciation of employee mental health issues. As experienced employment and disability lawyers, we will continue to follow and report on these positive developments.
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Lecker & Associates are Toronto Employment Lawyers and specialists in all matters of labour law, including denied disability claims. We exclusively represent employees.