• How Psychologically Safe is Your Workplace?
  • February 14, 2013 | Author: Kristin Taylor
  • Law Firm: Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP - Toronto Office
  • “Psychological health and safety in the workplace - Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation” has been released as a new National Standard by the Canadian Standards Association (“CSA”), the Bureau de normalisation du Quebec and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The Standard is currently voluntary, although it is common for CSA standards to make their way into legislation and regulation. It establishes best practices for employers to address mental health issues in their workplaces.

    The Standard offers a step-by-step approach to developing a psychologically healthy workplace. The steps include:

    • Identification and elimination of psychological hazards in the workplace (factors to assess include organizational culture, job demands, leadership, clarity of expectations, workload management, engagement, protection from violence, bullying and harassment);

    • Assessment and control of risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated;

    • Implementation of practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace;

    • Growing a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace; and

    • Monitoring and evaluating the workplace’s achievement of targets and taking preventative and corrective action as necessary.

    The Standard is the first of its kind in the world. From a risk management standpoint, it addresses many of the concerns that Canadian adjudicators already have raised in considering complaints involving discrimination based on mental illness. In 2008, for example, the Divisional Court (of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice) faulted an employer for its lack of awareness of its responsibilities under the Human Rights Code, including the absence of any policies or training of managers. The Court ordered substantial damages to the employee and imposed public interest remedies against the employer found to have discriminated against an employee with bipolar disorder. In addition to developing an anti-discrimination and harassment policy, the public interest remedies included the retention of a consultant to train all managers and employees of their human rights obligations with a particular focus on accommodation of persons with mental health issues.1 Although novel, the Standard has a foundation in existing Canadian case law.

    Statistics on the high costs associated with employee absenteeism and the prevalence of mental illness as the cause for such absenteeism further support the Standard. Employers who get it “right” with psychologically health workplaces stand to benefit by reducing their employee absenteeism which costs the Canadian economy millions of dollars each year.

    Although the Standard glosses over this, mental health issues can be truly challenging for employers to address. They often are invisible disabilities and, given their past stigma, sensitivity is critical. Privacy interests must be considered and balanced as part of the accommodation process. The undue hardship standard is high and tends to conflict with the pressure on management and employers to increase productivity and efficiency by doing more with less. Even so, there is much to be gained by promoting mental health in the workplace. Employers are well-advised to consider the Standard as a resource to achieve both the benefits and mitigation of risk associated with a psychologically healthy workplace.


    1 ADGA Group Consultants Inc. v. Lane, 2008 CanLII 39605, 91 O.R. (3d) 649 (Div. Ct.).