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I recently sat in on a presentation by a large benefits administrator, which focused on the top 5 categories of medical conditions resulting in disability claims. For both short and long term absences, at or near the top of that list are mental health issues. Mental health issues are often the primary cause of a disability claim. But they are also frequently a secondary cause — such as depression or anxiety after being diagnosed with a primary cause such as cancer.

This information is certainly consistent with what I have seen in my practice as a growing trend. Whether because of an increased prevalence, diagnosis or even societal acceptance of mental illness, employers appear to be facing these issues more than ever before in the workplace. Employers often struggle with how to handle these challenging issues in a lawful and compassionate – yet at the same time businesslike – fashion.

Not surprisingly, on June 18, 2014, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a new policy titled Policy on Preventing Discrimination Based on Mental Health Disabilities and Addictions.

This policy is intended to bring attention to the “considerable and longstanding discrimination, stigmatization and social exclusion” faced those with mental health disabilities and addictions. An estimated one in five Canadian adults will have a mental illness or addiction at some point in their lives.

This policy is also intended to educate the public, including employers, on the duties owed when an individual has a mental illness or addiction under Ontario’s human rights laws. It specifically provides employers with guidance on the scope of an employer’s duty to accommodate (up to the point of undue hardship) as it pertains to these issues.

Employers take note! If you haven’t already heard, human rights damages are on the increase. You would be well advised to read and consider following the policy recommendations whenever dealing with mental health or addiction issues in your workplace. You would also be well advised to involve your employment lawyers at an early stage as this area of the law can be fraught with legal landmines.

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