Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health is a key component of overall well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of mental health in the workplace into sharp focus.  

It is important that employers create a workplace culture that focuses on employee wellness, prevents work-related chronic stress in the workplace, and provides support to address any employee mental health concerns. 

Unaddressed, poor mental health in the workplace can lead to absenteeism, high turnover, and employee burnout, which negatively impact productivity and your bottom line. 

Do I have to provide mental health/stress leave to employees? 

While there is no specific leave for chronic stress or mental health, all Canadian jurisdictions offer sickness leave [or personal and family responsibility leave in the case of Alberta] to employees, whether paid or unpaid. Since chronic stress affects physical and mental well-being, it qualifies as a sickness. Employers should encourage employees to use their sick leave entitlements in case they need time off due to mental health concerns or chronic stress. Employers are free to offer more leave (paid or unpaid) than the minimum entitlements outlined in their provincial employment standards legislation.  

What is the difference between a mental illness and a mental health concern? 

According to The Canadian Mental Health Association, a mental illness is a “diagnosed disorder of thought, mood, or behaviour that has been present for an extended period of time and causes significant distress to the individual”. 

A mental health concern, on the other hand, is “a concern held by the individual due to a perceived deficit in mood or thought that is distressing but has not necessarily been present for an extended period”. 

Simply put, it’s the difference between having a diagnosed anxiety disorder and experiencing temporary anxiety due to “situational stress” such as being laid off or suffering a personal loss.  

If timely support is provided, it is possible for an individual to have good mental health and be productive despite having a mental illness. 

Are employers required to accommodate employees with mental illnesses? 

Yes. Employers have a legal duty to accommodate employees with a disability to the point of undue hardship. 

Under human rights law, employers cannot discriminate against their staff on any protected ground. Disability is a protected ground and includes mental health issues. Employers must not discriminate against an employee due to a mental health issue or illness. Examples of discriminatory actions include harassing or firing the employee or denying them a promotion. 

What other steps can I take to promote good mental health in the workplace? 

We recommend that employers: 

  • Start a conversation at work on the importance of getting help for mental health issues
  • Train managers on how to notice and address signs of poor mental health/chronic stress in the workplace  
  • Offer an Employee Assistance Program to provide counseling to those struggling  
  • Connect employees to free mental health resources provided by the government 
  • Create a mental health policy to guide staff/supervisors on the next steps 

Do you need help creating a mental health policy for your workplace? 

Our experts can help you create a clear and comprehensive workplace mental health policy that is in accordance with your provincial laws. To learn more about your obligations as an employer when it comes to mental health in the workplace, call our free adviceline today at 1-833-247-3650.