You have a right to be accommodated in the workplace

May 4, 2017

Under Canadian law, employers have to make every reasonable effort to accommodate workers with disabilities, including mental illness in the workplace.

You may need your employer to make some changes or accommodations, so you can continue to do your job. Some people need permanent accommodations, but many people with mental health challenges will only need temporary measures to help them ease back into work. It’s also important to remember that mental illness is often episodic: People with depression don’t feel sad all the time, just as people with other mental illnesses don’t always experience symptoms. It makes sense to have an accommodation plan for the future in place so that if you need it, it’s there.

You don’t have to tell your employer your diagnosis. You should work with your union steward to explain your specific needs and limitations that affect your work. You should have a doctor’s note to help with this. 

Depending on your manager and employer, it can sometimes be hard to discuss these issues—especially if you are in recovery. Your union steward can advocate for you and help you talk to your employer.

Remember that accommodations are not a favour your employer is doing for you. They are a legal responsibility and duty for your employer. You have a responsibility as well to let your employer know what your needs are if you want to be accommodated.

Changes for accommodation

Let’s say you have anxiety that is affecting your work. You don’t have to tell this to your employer. But you need to give them enough information about your needs and limitations in order to accommodate you. Your doctor could say what you temporarily need:

  • You have a lot of fatigue and so will need a graduated return to full hours;

  • You are less resilient to stress currently and so need to be relieved temporarily of some of your most stressful duties;

  • You have trouble concentrating currently and so will need to temporarily work on long-term projects instead of projects with tight deadlines;

  • You sometimes need a break from a noisy work environment so you may need access to a quiet space for several times a day, when you need it.

Accommodations based on this information might help you stay in your current job and they don’t reveal your diagnosis. Click for more accommodation suggestions for mental health issues.

Most people with a mental illness can be accommodated by the duty to accommodate law. Some workers with a mental illness like PTSD may have their illness be brought on or greatly affected by a workplace incident or a series of incidents. You should talk to your union steward or representative if this is the case and they will help guide you as to whether you filing a workers’ compensation claim is appropriate. 

Workers’ compensation

Most people with a mental illness can be accommodated by the duty to accommodate law. Some workers with a mental illness like PTSD may have their illness be brought on or greatly affected by a workplace incident or a series of incidents. In some provinces, there is now specific workers’ compensation coverage for some workers with PTSD. You should talk to your union representative if this is the case and they will help guide you as to whether you filing a workers’ compensation claim is appropriate. There is also coverage in some provinces for violence, harassment, stress or harm to psychological well-being that happens in the workplace—if these are significant factors for your member’s situation then filing a claim for worker’s compensation maybe appropriate.

We are currently in an evolving environment in terms of representing members with mental health issues. Where we are today will be different from where we will be 5 or 10 years from now. The best practices in representing members will continue to evolve and unions will need to keep listening to our members with mental health issue and keep learning how best to represent them going forward.