Can I Take a Mental Health Day in Ontario?Ian
Mental health is often an unseen challenge, and is becoming a growing concern in today’s workforce. Mental health challenges often remain hidden, unlike physical injuries, but that does not make them any less real or impactful. Sometimes mental health challenges can take its toll, and employees need time off of work to heal and continue with their daily routines.
This article explains employees’ rights when it comes to taking a day off for mental well-being in Ontario, and the employer’s obligations.
Can I Take a Mental Health Day in Ontario?
The short answer is “yes.”
While some Ontario employees deal with their stress, anxiety, and burnout without taking the necessary time off to recover.
Under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), employees can take up to three unpaid sick days, which can be directed towards mental health and stress-related issues. Employees can give verbal notice before taking mental health leave, but it is recommended to document the request in writing.
In addition to the mental health leave provided by the ESA, an employee can take a longer sick leave as a result of their mental health struggles or severe stress.
The Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) also categorizes mental health issues as disabilities. This classification means employers must accommodate a disability up to the point of undue hardship. This can include providing modified work duties, working hours, or working arrangements to assist the employee.
The length and pay associated with such a leave often depends on the specific arrangements between the employer, employee, and any third-party insurer. Some employers offer paid sick days and disability benefits that can cover extended mental health leaves. If you have questions about your entitlements, it is best to contact an experienced human rights lawyer. A lawyer can help you review your contract, company’s policies, and advocate for a suitable accommodation on your behalf.
Employer Responsibilities and Potential Liabilities
When employers are faced with requests by employees for extended medical leaves, they can request medical documentation as proof of the necessity for the leave. However, it’s imperative that employers proceed with caution. Requesting medical evidence does not give employers the right or opportunity to look into an employee’s medical history or ask for a diagnosis. Employers must limit their inquiry to seeking sufficient medical insight to facilitate proper accommodations for the employee, while respecting their privacy. If an employer neglects this duty and denies an employee’s valid request for leave, or takes punitive measures against an employee for requesting such a leave, they may face potential legal repercussions, such as:
- Being sued for constructive dismissal;
- Having a human rights application filed against them at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal; and/or
- Having a complaint lodged against them at the Ministry of Labour.
Such violations can have severe financial implications for employers. They may have to pay legal fees to help them defend the matter, along with the employee’s termination pay and possible damages for human rights violations. Employers should be informed, proactive, and prioritize the well-being of their workforce. It is prudent for an employer to retain an experienced employment lawyer as early as possible to help mitigate their exposure to risk.
How Employers Can Fulfill Their Responsibilities to Employees
A healthy workplace thrives on open communication. Employers should ensure that they create an atmosphere where mental health topics are addressed without judgment or prejudice. You should be informed about your employees’ rights concerning mental health days and the procedure to utilize them.
As best practice, employers should:
Provide Support Upon Return
Re-entering the workplace after taking a leave for mental health reasons can be difficult. Employers should facilitate a smooth transition for such employees. This can be achieved by re-evaluating their immediate tasks, temporarily lightening their workload, or even pairing them up with a supportive colleague.
Employers should not wait for issues to arise but take the initiative to proactively address potential challenges. This might involve establishing employee assistance programs, organizing mental health awareness workshops, or granting employees the flexibility to choose work hours that align with their personal well-being. Such measures would demonstrate an employer’s commitment to the mental wellness of their staff.
Seek Legal Advice
Seeking advice from an experienced employment lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of mental health leave and accommodation requests to avoid litigation. If you have received a claim regarding discrimination or constructive dismissal, an employment lawyer can help put forward a strong defence on your behalf.
Mental well-being is important for employees in the workplace. As an employee, recognizing your rights and entitlements is crucial. The ESA and Code help to ensure that you can address your mental well-being without the fear of discrimination or reprisal. For employers, looking at these rights with empathy and taking proactive measures not only creates a healthier workplace but also mitigates potential legal repercussions. An experienced employment lawyer can help both employees and employers navigate the legal landscape of mental health leaves in Ontario.
If you are an employer or an employee needing assistance, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help.
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