Ask a Lawyer: Duty to inquire: Are employers scared of asking questions around mental health?

Ask a Lawyer: Duty to inquire: Are employers scared of asking questions around mental health?

Ask a Lawyer: Duty to inquire: Are employers scared of asking questions around mental health?

We spoke to Lisa Cabel, partner at Norton Rose Fulbright at last year’s Employment Law Masterclass, where we discussed duty to inquire and how this affects employees with mental health issues.

During our chat, we asked Cabel whether she thought employers were wary of asking questions around mental health in the workplace.

“I think so,” she explained. “I think employers can find it an intimidating area. It can be very easy to feel as if you’re going too far into somebody’s personal life; however, the reality is that this is coming from a place of support. Employers should have confidence in asking these questions in order to help people through personal issues that are impacting the workplace – you’re doing the right thing for the person – so bearing that in mind helps you get through.”

So, what sorts of accommodations should employers be looking into to help workers who might be going through a tough time?

“One takeaway is that you don’t always need to have medical to put in place accommodations,” added Cabel. “If an employee is saying that it would be helpful for them if they could start a little bit later or maybe work from home a couple of days a week, if the employer is capable of doing this on a temporary basis I’d say go ahead and do it.

“Another example would be if people are intimidated by larger group meetings, perhaps have a manager deal with them separately – if they need to get feedback on a project they may not be comfortable explaining that in a group meeting.”

As for mistakes employers seem to be making, Cabel revealed the biggest offender she continues to witness.

“Sometimes people jump to the conclusion that a decline in performance is culpable. Employers could step back and asses if there’s something else at play, if there’s something else going on in the person’s life that they need to be aware of. Try and communicate and find this out before you draw the conclusion that what they’re doing is misconduct.”


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