Ask the Psychotherapist – How does an employer deal with employee’s mental health issues?


Question:  I’m frustrated because one of my employees is calling in sick due to depression and I do not know how to respond.  I want to support them but I also need people to work.  What do I do?


This is a great question.  I’ve been asked this question with different mental health issues such as grief, anxiety, trauma, PTSD.  It is a concern because as an employer, you have a balancing issue of taking care of your staff and building your business.  The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decided that affirms both the procedural and substantive duty of an employer to accommodate a person’s mental health disability, even when that person is not capable of expressing that they need help or accommodation.


Now employers are not only responsible for accommodating if the employee knows they have a problem but also if the person is not able to express they need help.  Which can be an overwhelming responsibility because most employers do not know how to determine if someone is struggling with a mental health issue.  Take the pressure off yourself because you do not have to be judge and jury on this issue that is what health care professionals are here to help you with.


As a Registered Psychotherapist, part of my role is to assess where a person is and if they need accommodations at work.  Psychotherapists and other health care professionals work closely with people who struggle with mental health issues to help them live a healthy lifestyle.  Part of being healthy is maintaining employment.  There are times when someone requires an accommodation and we can write a letter stating which adjustments are needed as well as a plan to return to normal duties. 


In practical terms, as an employer you need to talk with your employee and let them know that you care about them and will support them.  Inform them of your company's health benefits and recommend they find a therapist of their choosing.  You can also have a list of recommendations for them or advise them to go to their doctor for a recommendation.  Ask for them to provide a letter stating any adjustments required at work.  Remember, if the person is suffering from mental health issues they will probably need an hour off every week to attend their therapy appointment for a couple months.  The benefit to you is that you will probably end up with a healthier, loyal and a more productive employee.


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