Approaching the employer

November 5, 2017

Mental illness or struggles with mental health can be overwhelming and confusing, and it is very helpful for members to have someone in the union to advocate for them.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Encourage the member to see a doctor who can determine if they need some time off, or accommodations so they can keep doing their job. If the member needs accommodation, let the member know that the note from their doctor needs to be as specific as possible. For example, specifying the kinds of tasks and responsibilities the worker should avoid for medical reasons is better than saying something more general, like “light duties”.
  • If the member needs to take time off, help them approach the employer to discuss it. You should be knowledgeable about what kind of leave is available, and you can help the employer understand that the member needs time off for a health issue.
  • If the member needs accommodations, start the process of determining what accommodation are needed. Accommodation is a process that involves the worker, union, and employer. The employer has a duty to accommodate workers when it comes to mental health. These accommodations may be temporary, and are often relatively simple and inexpensive to implement. You can be a strong advocate for making sure your members get the accommodations they need.
  • Most employers have some understanding of the duty to accommodate generally, but may not be experienced or familiar with accommodating a worker with a mental illness. As the union representative, you can help the process along, by sharing useful information about accommodations for mental health when appropriate.

Before you approach the employer, make sure that the member wants your help in talking to the employer and agrees to it. Remember that you should not reveal a diagnosis of mental illness to the employer, unless the member wants to share it with the employer. Accommodation needs and specific limitations must be shared with the employer and making sure the member understands the difference is important.