Experiencin “Labour Pains”? Retention Tip #11

As part of the series on Mental Health in the Workplace, I thought that I would
share these frequently asked questions taken from a guide developed by the
Canadian Mental Health Association and the province of Ontario. Even though we
are different provinces, the challenges and questions are similar. If you’d like to
look at the guide yourself, the link can be found in the Pictou County Mental
Wellness and Resilience Toolkit which was an initiative of the Pictou County
Mental Wellness Round Table along with the Mental Health Association of
Canada. Also, a great resource.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Health in the Workplace
Canadian Mental Health Association – Mental Health in The Workplace

  1. Can I ask someone whether they have a mental illness during a job interview?
    No, you may not ask someone whether they have any type of disability. You may ask whether
    they will be able to perform all the essential duties of the job. In doing this, they may disclose
    that they have a disability that requires an accommodation.
    In order to ensure compliance with the Accessible Employment Standard you must write in
    your job advertisements that you will accommodate employees, as well as prospective hires
    during the interview process.
  2. An employee has requested an accommodation but has not disclosed detailed
    information. What in-formation can I request?
    The employee is not required to disclose specific diagnoses or even the category of disability
    but is required to provide enough information to enable the employer to provide the
    accommodation. This can include a note from a medical doctor stating that there is a valid
    disability requiring accommodation, what the work-related limitations are, and what the
    prognosis for recovery is.
  3. I am concerned about alcohol and drug use among employees. Can I require employees
    to submit to random testing?
    Both the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Commissions have specific policies on this
    type of testing.
  • Testing of an employee can only be done where the employer can objectively show that drug
    or alcohol use would impair an employee’s ability to do their job, or there is a real safety risk
  • The federal guidelines state that where an employee has returned to work after treatment for a
    substance use concern, testing might be permitted under some circumstances if it is part of the
    return-to-work plan or their treatment.
  • Always consult your legal advisor before you begin instituting such a policy.
  • Problematic substance use may be considered a disability under certain circumstances. If this
    is the case, you will be required to accommodate the individual up to the point of undue
  1. I have an employee whose performance has deteriorated over the past year. I am
    concerned this person may have a mental health concern. Can I ask them about it? What if
    they deny there is a problem?
    An employer may, as part of a discussion about performance, ask an employee whether there
    are any problems that are interfering with their work. Without asking if the employee has a
    mental health concern, you can suggest that the employee consider speaking with your
    Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or their family doctor, if a health concern is impacting
    their work.
    It is appropriate to mention that there is an accommodation policy in your workplace and what
    the individual should do if they believe they require accommodation. It is important that in the
    event an employee discloses a mental illness, they are reassured that the disclosure does not
    jeopardize their employment. An employer may follow normal disciplinary processes if there
    is no request for accommodation.
  2. An employee has returned to work after an extended leave due to a disability and is fine
    when taking medication but has behavioural problems when they stop. Can I require an
    employee to take their medication?
    It is difficult to find any legal basis for an employer to require an employee to take, or continue,
    a particular treatment. However, the employer can make it clear that when the person returns
    there are certain performance expectations. If these are not being met, then the return-to-work
    will be reviewed, and a determination made about whether the person can carry out the
    requirement of the job.
  3. What is a return-to-work discussion?
    The return-to-work process after extended leave is an important process in terms of the
    ultimate success of the employee’s ability to meet their job requirements as well as complete a
    treatment paradigm. To facilitate this, employers should:
  • Establish essential duties of the job.
  • Consider any possible challenges in meeting objectives.
  • Help the employee understand any concerns and goals.
  • Review the healthcare provider’s report on limitations.
  • Know about previous performance or workplace relationship issues that were not resolved
    prior to the absence.
  • Ensure that the employee and supervisor have a shared understanding of what will happen
    upon the return-to-work. Seek out training opportunities to ensure the supervisor is prepared.
  1. I am concerned that an employee with a mental health concern may be a safety risk. Can
    I refuse to hire the person on that basis?
  • Safety is one of the criteria that can be used to refuse to hire someone based on a disability if
    it is directly related to a bona-fide occupational requirement and there is clear evidence that the
    individual cannot do the job in a safe manner. Basing the decision upon stereotypes of mental
    illness, rather than on the actual and probable safety risk would be considered discrimination.
  1. What should I do if an employee is experiencing a crisis or has expressed, they are
    considering suicide?
  • As a manager, you should not avoid the situation, TAKE ACTION. You should talk to the
    employee and listen actively to what they have to say. Contact your local emergency department
    or crisis telephone line immediately for assistance or call 911. The time following a crisis or
    suicide attempt is critical. The employee should receive intensive care during this time. Maintain
    regular contact and work with the employee to organize support.

Here are a couple of links to helpful resources on this topic.