According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, around 17% or 800,000 British Columbians experience mental issues, including depression.

Yet, the stigma around depression is still distinctly prevalent – especially in the workplace.

Unfortunately, depression can end up severely impacting how your employees perform at work.

So what can employers do to better handle depression and other mental health issues in the workplace? It starts with awareness and acceptance.

Here’s what you need to know about how your employer should be accommodating your mental health issues in the workplace.

What Is Depression?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is an illness that negatively impacts your thought process, how you feel and how you act.

Depression often leads to a range of emotional and physical issues and can ultimately decrease your ability to function at work.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • extreme feelings of sadness and grief;
  • loss of energy;
  • general fatigue;
  • feelings of worthlessness;
  • difficulty concentrating, thinking and making decisions;
  • loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed;
  • lack of motivation; and
  • thoughts of death or suicide.

Fortunately, depression can be treated in various ways, including counselling, antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Unfortunately, however, most cases of depression go untreated because, more often than not, disclosing depression leads to stigmatization and discrimination.

BC Workplace Depression and Discrimination

Under the British Columbia (BC) Human Rights Code (the Code), no person may discriminate against another person on the prohibited grounds.

Discrimination can occur in various ways, but it’s generally described as unfair behaviour that limits a person or group of people’s access to opportunities and benefits available to others as a direct result of a distinct personal characteristic.

One of the prohibited grounds is discrimination based on physical and mental disability, including depression.

And according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, mental illness is the leading cause of disability in Canada.

If you would like to learn more about workplace discrimination in BC, you can read Zoe Arghandewal’s discussion here.

How To Determine Whether Depression is a Mental Disability

Although mental disability is included as a protected ground in the BC Human Rights Code, it is not defined in our legislation, so it’s necessary to look at case law in other jurisdictions.

To attract protection under the Human Rights Code, the following test is applied to determine whether depression (and other mental illnesses) is a mental disability for human rights protection purposes in many jurisdictions across Canada:

  • the depression prevents the employee from performing functions that most people can perform;
  • the suffering is ongoing; and
  • it’s beyond the employee’s control.

Beyond that, the BC Human Rights Tribunal has also specified, in the case of Ford v. Peak Products Manufacturing and others, that a mere claim that an employee is experiencing depression isn’t sufficient to establish a mental disability.

So, it’s likely that the employer will require the employee to furnish some form of medical evidence to prove the mental disability before applying their duty to accommodate.

An Employers Duty to Accommodate

Employers have a legal duty to accommodate mental health issues to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, avoid discrimination, and equitable access to employment opportunities.

Simply put, for an employer to satisfy their duty to accommodate, they may need to adapt and adjust their policies and employment requirements that could be considered discriminatory.

The purpose of an employer’s legal duty to accommodate their employees is to ensure that their employees are afforded the opportunity to do the work they’re required to do.

However, there are limitations on a BC employer’s duty to accommodate. Your employer will only have the duty to accommodate up to the point that it starts causing them undue hardship.

If you would like to learn more about undue hardship and the duty to accommodate, you can read Zoe Arghandewal’s discussion here.

An Employers Duty to Inquire

In the context of mental health issues and depression, an employer does not only have a duty to accommodate but also a duty to inquire if they suspect, or ought to suspect, that mental illness exists.

Key Takeaways

Depression and other mental health illnesses have become increasingly more prevalent in workplaces. Unfortunately, a significant stigma still exists around acknowledging depression and seeking treatment. As this stigma begins to melt in Canadian workplaces, it is important to understand what you can do to help yourself and how to proceed with confidence and dignity with your employer.

A human rights lawyer can assist you in ensuring that you’re getting the correct level of accommodation and that you’re playing your part too.

At Arghandewal Law, Zoe is dedicated to assisting employees by understanding human rights complaints and working towards the best possible resolution for you.

So, if you have any questions about mental health, depression and your employer’s duty to accommodate, contact us today!