Canadian HR Reporter

February 20, 2017

Canadian HR Reporter is the national journal of human resource management. It features the latest workplace news, HR best practices, employment law commentary and tools and tips for employers to get the most out of their workforce.

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Page 30 of 31

CANADIAN HR REPORTER February 20, 2017 INSIGHT 31 'I was fi red after asking for help' Employers have to back up their claims of supporting mental health, says an employee dismissed after she presented a doctor's note at work On Jan. 12, I was fi red from K93, a Bell Media-owned radio station — one hour after handing in a doctor's note pre- scribing 10 days off work for mental health leave. After I posted about it on social media on Bell's "Let's Talk Day," people had a lot to say about it. " e nerve of Bell!" "How hypo- critical!" and " at's discrimina- tion" were phrases I saw over and over on social media. But I couldn't stop thinking about how things didn't have to end the way they did. My employer panicked be- cause my situation was sensitive. But there were many ways it could have been better dealt with, espe- cially concerning a worker having mental health struggles. e day of my fi ring, I was ex- tremely transparent about what I was going through. My program director listened to what I had to say, but it was clear he didn't know how to respond. And it was the same for the operations manager and HR. They were uncomfortable. When my employer felt un- comfortable, it made me feel more uncomfortable. It was hard enough admitting I needed to take time off — their reaction made me feel as if I had taken one step for- ward and a dozen steps back. Speaking from experience, peo- ple with mental health struggles often want someone to talk to, but this does not have to fall on an HR representative's shoulders. Some people are more comfort- able than others when talking about these sensitive issues. What would have helped me is if my employer had resources available, such as therapists, psy- chologists or even lifestyle sugges- tions. Not only would this have helped me move further towards getting better, but it would have shown me I was being looked out for, that my employer takes men- tal health seriously. If you are an employer that has these resources available already, be sure to mention them during the orientation of a new employee and in a staff -wide email once or twice a year. You aren't only re- minding employees you are will- ing to help, you're showing them you're ready to support them. Raising $6 million for aware- ness says a lot, but the big test is to put your money where your mouth is. If you have read- ily available resources, it tells an employee he is not alone and his support team (which he needs) is expanding. Each person is diff erent and has diff erent struggles. If an employee comes to you about her mental health struggles, have trust if you can't have empathy. Of course, as always, remember the rules for confi dentiality and privacy. A second strategy my employer could have used may sound quite simple, but sometimes the sim- plest things are the ones we over- look the most. Leading up to my termination, I wish my supervisor had asked me more about how I felt about work. When I look back now, I know being able to open up with my employer earlier in my struggles would have decreased the stress I was experiencing. Half of workers diagnosed with a mental health illness haven't told their employer, according to Health Canada. Of course, stigma is an infl uence of this, but fear is also a contributing factor. My story was meant to end the stig- ma of mental health, but it could have also induced fear for others who are looking to open up and are afraid they're risking their employment. Employees should know that being honest with their struggles will lead to support, not discrimi- nation, and mental health will be treated the same as physical health. I thought my HR department would be there for me. ey were not. ey did not have answers, they did not have a support system and they did not know what to do in my situation. I wanted answers that I was owed so badly, I opened my personal health fi le and show- cased it in front of the country. My HR department did not know how to handle the situation, so they cut me out completely. I may not ever get an apology but I do hope my situation can be a lesson. Mental health is not something to be swept under the rug. Education, understanding and support need to be commit- ted to in the workplace for every- one's benefi t. In light of my situation, now's the perfect time for employers to remind employees of the re- sources you have available and the support system your corporation is committed to. I know there are workers out there who, like me, are putting on a brave face every- day but are having terrible inter- nal struggles. No one should have to hide an illness that's out of their control for fear of losing their job. Familiarize yourself with work- place stressors, and the eff ects they are having on employees. More than likely, if it is a stressor, the employee won't be the one to start the conversation for fear of showing weakness. Ask how the job position is going, how the employee is feeling, and start an open, honest conversation. If an employee submits a medi- cal note, know that it took courage for that person to admit he needed help. Respect that courage and get on board to support the individual. It will mean the world to her. ere is a mental health fi ght going on, but it isn't against the illness — it's against the stigma. Do what you can to defeat it, and you'll be helping Canada take the much-needed steps towards a better and healthier workforce. Maria McLean is a public relations student and mental health advocate from New Glasgow, N.S., currently re- siding in Grand Falls, N.B. On Jan. 12, I was fi red from K93, a Bell Media-owned radio station — one hour after handing in a doctor's note pre- scribing 10 days off work for mental Maria McLean GUEST COMMENTARY Accommodating levels of work stress The difference between severe stress and normal, expected stress at work Question: Should an employee who has a poor reaction to normal work stressors be treated diff erently than one who suf- fers from severe stress from an extreme incident in terms of mental health accommodation? Answer: Regardless of whether an employee has a poor reaction to normal work stressors or severe stress from an extreme incident, the employer's accommodation duties would depend on whether the employee's issues or diffi cul- ties would be captured by a pro- tected ground under the applica- ble human rights legislation — in this case, either mental disability or physical disability. Human rights legislation across Canada protects both mental dis- ability and physical disability. For instance, the Alberta Hu- man Rights Act (AHRA) provides that employers must not discrimi- nate against employees for (among other things) race, age, mental dis- ability and physical disability, and that such characteristics should be accommodated by the employer to the point of undue hardship, unless there is a bona fi de occupa- tional requirement. Mental disability includes any mental disorder, development disorder or learning disorder, re- gardless of the cause or duration. ere are cases that have found that work-related stress and anxiety can amount to a mental or physical disability mandating accommodation. For instance, in the 2015 Coo- per v. 133668899 Ltd. decision, an employee suff ered from work- related stress as the general man- ager of a hotel. Her physician wrote a note recommending she take sick leave "for reason of men- tal illness (stress)." When the employee spoke to her employer on the phone, the parties began a heated argument, which culminated in the com- plainant's dismissal. e Alberta Human Rights Tribunal consid- ered and accepted that the com- plainant's stress was a mental dis- ability within the meaning of the Alberta Human Rights Act. In so fi nding, the tribunal considered the physician's medical note ex- plicitly identifi ed the employee's stress as a mental illness. An employer that suspects an employee suff ers from a mental disability is precluded by human rights legislation from discrimi- nating on the basis of that dis- ability, and is under a positive obligation to accommodate the employee to the point of undue hardship. is obligation exists whether an employee has a poor reaction to normal work stressors or suf- fers from severe stress from an extreme incident. e duty to ac- commodate requires an individu- alized assessment of the circum- stances, needs and capabilities of the particular employee and an individualized response based on those circumstances. This encompasses a duty to seek out information. For instance, in the 2010 Du- puis c. Canada (Procureur gé- néral), the federal court found that if a manager can detect a change in an employee's behaviour that could be attributable to a mental disorder, it is her responsibility to determine whether accommoda- tion is necessary. Further, it is plausible to con- sider that erratic requests by an employee and personal confl icts can conceal a mental disorder. Ac- commodation would be particu- larly urgent if the employee ap- pears to be fatigued, on the verge of a burnout, or acting irrationally. Each case is unique and de- serves to be assessed individually. For more information see: • Cooper v. 133668899 Ltd., 2015 CarswellAlta 2625 (Alta. Human Rights Trib.). • Dupuis c. Canada (Procureur général), 2010 CarswellNat 2243 (F.C.). Tim Mitchell practises management- side labour and employment law at Norton Rose Fulbright in Calgary. He can be reached at (403) 267-8225, tim.mitchell@nortonrosefulbright. com or for more information, visit I may never get an apology but I do hope my situation can be a lesson. Tim Mitchell TOUGHEST HR QUESTION "What is surprising is not that senior employees are 'handcuffed' (after all, compensation packages were purposely designed to retain employees) but that employers do very little to engage senior employees. I am an employee with more than 30 years' experience at a utility company. Several years ago, my job was eliminated through restructuring, but I was offered another position. I have loads of valuable knowledge and experience, and I am a high-performing manager, but the job I've been placed in is several levels lower than my previous position, and I can't get anyone to look at me as a serious candidate for anything else (I'm pretty sure my age is the reason). The company is maintaining my salary — I would have expected they would give me work to earn that salary. I'm willing and able to do much more. It seems like a lose-lose prospect." — Anonymous, commenting on Todd Humber's blog "The high cost of golden handcuffs" Join the conversation. 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