The Legal Case for Investing in Workplace Mental Health
Making an investment in the psychological health of your staff is smart from a legal perspective:
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When it comes to protecting physical health, the laws in Ontario are well known. As an employer, you have a responsibility to create and maintain a safe work environment, which includes providing the information, training and supervision needed to do a job safely.
Employers tend to be less aware that, for the protection of mental health, the situation is similar. You are obligated to provide a psychologically safe workplace – one that actively works to prevent mental injury (harm to mental health due to negligent, reckless or intentional acts). For example, it’s essential to avoid placing unreasonable work demands on staff, which could result in overwhelming, or sustained high, levels of stress.
The Ontario Human Rights Code provides workers equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. Employers have a duty to accommodate the needs of people with mental health disabilities and addictions, to the point of undue hardship.
Harassment is prohibited under the Human Rights Code. If co-workers are bullying or making fun of a staff member with depression, or constantly questioning the types of medication she is taking, it could be a form of harassment – and you could be liable if “toxic work conditions” are judged to have contributed to an employee’s pain or disability.
Experiencing a high level of stress, sub-clinical depression and anxiety, severe demoralization, disengagement, and alienation are all examples of mental distress that can be a factor in the development of mental illness. But mental distress by itself might be legally considered mental injury, if it’s the result of someone else’s negligent, reckless or intentional conduct.
Regardless of Ontario laws, all people have a moral responsibility to treat one another with fairness and respect. Unfortunately, a continuum of poor workplace behaviour still exists, that ranges from rudeness, through to harassment, and, on the extreme, violence. The point on that line where conduct is punishable by law keeps changing – some behaviour that may have been tolerated in the workplace even five years ago is no longer acceptable to the majority of judges and arbitrators. So, it’s in your best interest to ensure all members of your organization act in a manner that prevents the risk of legal consequences.
For more information regarding the emerging legal case, enter “Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm” into the search bar.
It makes sense to spend the needed time and resources training staff members, and putting a proactive mental health plan in place. You’ll create a better place for all to work, and avoid the potential hassles and penalties associated with legal battles.