Mental Health Leave in Ontario: What You Need To KnowIan
In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment, the importance of mental health has gained widespread recognition. Employers play a crucial role in promoting and supporting their employees’ well-being, including their mental health. In Ontario, employers have certain rights, obligations and responsibilities when it comes to an employee’s request for mental health leave.
This article aims to shed light on these rights and obligations, and provide guidance for employers to create a supportive work environment.
Understanding Mental Health Leave
In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) provides certain provisions for different types of unpaid leaves of absence. Employees in Ontario are entitled to a maximum of three unpaid days off each calendar year for mental health or stress-related struggles. The reason for the illness or injury does not have to be work-related, and employees may still be entitled to sick leave.
An employer may offer paid time off, or other benefits, through an insurer which allows the employee to be on paid mental health or stress-related leave.
In addition to sick leave, employees covered by the ESA in Ontario are entitled to various other types of leave, including:
- Bereavement leave;
- Child death leave;
- Critical illness leave;
- Domestic or sexual violence leave;
- Family caregiver leave;
- Family medical leave; and
- Family responsibility leave.
Employees are not required to provide written notice before commencing their mental health leave. They can provide verbal notice regarding their time off for mental health related reasons, although maintaining a written record is recommended for documentation purposes.
Employers can request a medical note for mental health leave. However, employers do not have the right to know the specific diagnosis (i.e., the medical condition) or the treatment an employee is receiving. The doctor’s note may provide information such as:
- The date of the healthcare provider visit.
- The anticipated length of the mental health leave.
- Information necessary to facilitate workplace accommodations.
If you are an employee who is thinking about requesting mental health leave, or already has, and you have questions about your rights, contact an experienced human rights lawyer. Consulting an employment lawyer is advantageous for employees to understand their legal rights regarding mental health leaves. Employment lawyers provide guidance, clarity, and assistance in navigating employment laws, protecting rights, and minimizing risks, leading to informed decision-making.
Under the Code, mental health struggles can come under the protected ground of disability, and employers have a duty to accommodate employees with mental health conditions to the point of undue hardship. It is crucial to understand and fulfill your obligations as an employer regarding mental health and any stress-related struggles of your employees. Here are some key points to consider:
- Awareness and Communication
Foster an open and supportive workplace culture where mental health is discussed openly, free from stigma. Educate your employees about their rights and entitlements regarding mental health leave and ensure they know how to request such leave.
- Accommodation and Return-to-Work Support
When an employee returns from mental health leave, provide appropriate accommodations to facilitate their smooth reintegration into the workplace. This may include adjusting workloads, modifying tasks, or providing additional support or resources.
- Preventative Measures
Implement proactive measures to promote mental well-being in the workplace. This can include initiatives such as employee assistance programs, mental health training for managers, flexible work arrangements, and fostering a positive work-life balance.
In addition to mental health leave, employees may have access to short-term or long-term disability benefits.
An employer may open themselves up to liability if they unreasonably refuse to grant an employee’s mental health leave and/or retaliates against the employee for requesting such leave. An employer may be liable for a constructive dismissal claim, violations of the ESA, the Code, and under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.
If you are an employer with questions about your obligations, consult with an experienced employment lawyer to limit your exposure to liability. By understanding and fulfilling your obligations, you can create a workplace culture that supports and prioritizes mental health, ultimately benefiting both your employees and your organization as a whole.
Under the ESA, employees are entitled to take up to three unpaid days off for mental health or stress-related reasons.
As employers, it is essential to recognize the significance of mental health in the workplace and understand your obligations regarding mental health leave. Creating a supportive work environment and fostering a culture of open communication and understanding can go a long way in promoting employee well-being.
Moreover, employers have legal obligations under the Code to accommodate employees with mental health conditions to the point of undue hardship. This includes providing support during the return-to-work process.
Taking proactive measures to promote mental well-being in the workplace is crucial. Implementing initiatives like employee assistance programs, mental health training, and work-life balance strategies can contribute to a healthier work environment.
If you are an employer or an employee with questions about mental health leave or need assistance with a workplace dispute, our team of experienced employment lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (866) 311-8172 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist.