Mental Health in the ‘Remote’ Workplace

The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way businesses operate – and a concerted effort should be put to manage mental health in the remote workplace. In some cases, businesses are forced to shut down if alternative options are not viable, or maintain “business as usual”–remotely. Employees may be unsure of their job security, feeling isolated due to physical distancing, or worried for the health and safety of their loved ones. Attempting to navigate work issues during the pandemic can have varying effects on employees, and employers may see a rise in mental health in the workplace concerns and disability-related needs.

While day-to-day operations may be on the forefront of many employers, mental health in the ‘remote’ workplace is an important consideration and should continue to be priority for employers during this time especially.

Employer’s Human Rights and Safety Obligations Regarding Mental Health in the Workplace

Under Ontario’s Human Rights Code (“OHRC”) and the Canadian Human Rights Act (“CHRA”), employers are required to accommodate an employee’s disability, including any mental health concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a situation where an employer was not aware of an employee’s mental health disability, and the pandemic has triggered an onset of mental health condition or disability, employers are still obligated to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

Employers in Ontario should be aware of the recent changes which remove the requirement, or the employer’s request, of medical documentation to substantiate a medical condition or ailment. This principle will likely apply to mental health concerns stemming from the outbreak, due to the unique circumstances of pandemic and state of emergency.

Employers continue to have obligations for the health and safety of their workers. Providing a clear, detailed list of what measures the employer is taking to protect employees’ health and safety may go a long way to reducing anxiety experienced by their employees.

Assisting Employees with Mental Health in the Workplace During COVID-19

While business owners may face their own uncertainty and anxiety, employers must ensure they remain flexible and assist employees by providing a statement of support, commitment, and providing up-to-date information on how the employer will respond to the current situation.

Ways in which employers can remain flexible may include:

  1. Time off (paid/unpaid);
  2. Working from home; or
  3. Staggered shifts to help with health and safety concerns.

As well as outlining services that may be available to employees, such as the Employee Assistant Program or Specialized Organizational Services, employers can also encourage employees to speak with their managers or supervisors to discuss resources that may be available to them with respect to short-term or crisis counselling.

Creating an open-door policy for employees working remotely is also key to promoting a supportive workplace environment. If employees have mental health concerns, including those who are more vulnerable or caring for vulnerable person(s) during this time, they will be more welcome to consult with employers about any concerns.

Contact Us

If you are an employer and need more information on how to properly accommodate your employees during this time, or an employee and wish to know your rights and options when it comes to mental health workplace our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at  1-(800)771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call 1-(800)771-7882, or email [email protected].