Managing the impact of mental illness in a team

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Mental illness is an invisible disease, which makes it difficult to recognize and address within a work environment. While accommodation is key, there are added complications when an employee’s illness affects how well they work with their colleagues.

When an employee is disruptive, it’s understandable that their teammates will look to management to address that behaviour, but when the disruptive behaviour is related to a diagnosed mental health issue it complicates matters.

As an employer, you are required to accommodate for mental health issues, and for privacy reasons you can’t tell the rest of the staff what’s happening so it’s possible you’ll end up with a lot of disgruntled workers, wondering why one person is getting what appears to be special treatment.

According to employment lawyer Kelsey Orth, a partner at Crawford Chondon & Partners, a good step is to include a general statement during the onboarding or training process. Tell employees that your organization accommodates all forms of illness and injury and you hope they will trust management if they need accommodation, and will recognise that sometimes it will apply to their coworkers.

If an individual is causing disruptions or turmoil in the workplace, you can handle it as a behavioural issue while still accommodating their needs, but if it becomes a workplace safety issue it is important to act quickly to ensure everyone’s physical safety is protected.

But what if one or more employee makes accusations of harassment?

“Harassment rules under [Ontario’s] Bill 168 are different and broader than harassment or discrimination under the [Human Rights] Code. We’re going from competing rights to competing laws, almost,” Orth said.

Which is more important: accommodating mental health, or preventing harassment? Find out on Page 2.

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