What Responsibilities Do Employers Have to Support Mental Health in the Workplace?

By Sean O’Donnell

These blog posts are meant to provide educational content and are not to be taken as legal advice.

According to studies, for every dollar that an employer invests in supporting mental health in the workplace, they reap an ROI of three dollars in terms of reduced absenteeism and better productivity. That means that from a financial standpoint alone, investing in mental health is a smart business decision. But did you know that employers also have a legal obligation to support the mental health of their employees as well? 

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue in a given year, and by age 40, approximately half of Canadians will have experienced a mental illness. This means that as an employer, you are almost guaranteed to have an employee who is suffering from mental illness at some point. Although mental illness does not suffer from the same stigma that it did in previous decades, there is still a long way to go

Freedom from discrimination

According to the Human Rights Code, employees are protected against harassment and discrimination due to disabilities. This includes mental illness and addiction. 

Although employees are not required to disclose disabilities (unless they specifically affect their judgement or ability to do their job), employers should do their best to create a work culture in which employees would not feel stigmatized if they did disclose their condition. One way for employees to create this culture in the area of mental health is to increase awareness among all employees about mental health issues through company communications, provide training for managers, encourage work-life balance, and develop mental health polices that can help prevent bullying and harassment. 

Duty to accommodate

Employers have a duty to accommodate any employee with a disability (as long as it does not cause undue harm) – and this includes employees with mental illness or addiction. In most cases, the duty to accommodate starts when the employee asks for help, but in some cases, it can begin as soon as the employer suspects there is a problem. 

Some ways in which an employer can accommodate an employee with a mental health issue include:

  • Offering flexible work hours.
  • Facilitating access to a support program.
  • In some cases, job restructuring

Resources for employers

Addressing mental health issues in the workplace can be a challenge for employers. Fortunately, there are many free resources that employers can turn to for support. Healthy Minds at Work for example, is a free toolkit that was developed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). Here, employers can find access to information, training tools and programs that can help them support mental health in the workplace. 

Another good resource for employers is The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, developed by The Mental Health Commission of Canada

Contact SJO today

Are you an employer who needs help or legal advice in supporting mental health in your company, or are you an employee who feels your rights have been violated because of a mental illness? If so, contact SJO legal today to speak to one of our lawyers. 


 1 https://cmha.ca/fast-facts-about-mental-illness