Williams HR Law LLP

The Quiet Cost Of Mental Illness in the Workplace

March 2, 2012

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According to Health Canada 1 in every 5 Canadians experiences some form of mental illness in the course of their lives. And, at one time or another, every Canadian has felt the impact of mental illness either directly or indirectly.

The prevalence of mental illness also takes a toll on Canadian business. It is estimated that each year the economic burden resulting from mental illness in Canada is $51-billion with about $20-billion of that a direct result of workplace losses. Adding to the impact that organizations feel is the fact that almost half of managers in Canadian workplaces have no training on managing employees who are experiencing mental health issues according to a recent Conference Board of Canada survey.

It was statistics such as these that led to a report commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and completed by Dr. Martin Shain of the University of Toronto to investigate psychological health in the workplace. The completed 2010 report, entitled “Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm” ultimately asserted that there exists an emerging legal duty in Canada for employers to provide and to maintain a psychologically safe workplace. Included in discussions following the release of the report was, among other things, the need for a national standard for managing psychological health and safety in the workplace.

This need was addressed in June of 2011 in an announcement by the MHCC, in collaboration with the Bureau de normalisation du Quebec (BNQ) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), to develop a new Canada-wide standard known as the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The goal is that once completed, the new standard will provide organizations with the tools and information needed to properly deal with mental illness as it arises which ultimately means an improvement in the psychological health and safety for all working Canadians. The implementation of the Standard will be up to individual organizations or their regulating bodies.

Specifically, according to MHCC, the potential advantages of implementing the Standard will include reduced absenteeism and short and long-term disability costs; reduced turnover and enhanced recruitment; higher levels of employee engagement; increased employee creativity and innovation; lower rates of error and physical injuries and reduced risk of legal issues related to psychological harm to employees.

The completed Standard is expected to be released in early 2012 and will immediately be made available via the MHCC, BNQ and CSA websites. Following publication, MHCC plans to move forward with an initiative aimed at raising awareness of the new standards and encouraging implementation.

Although participation is voluntary, we strongly recommended that organizations consider adopting the standards or implementing a similar policy as the merits of proactively tackling mental health issues in the workplace are significant. Moreover, in light of the AODA and the Ontario government’s continuing efforts to eventually achieve total accessibility, it is also not difficult to foresee the potential for standards of a similar nature to be legislated in the years to come.


This blog is provided as information and a summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.