The Employee’s Guide To Working With Mental Health Or Addiction Issues

An estimated 20% of the Canadian population experiences mental health or addiction problems in any given year. These issues cut across age, income, race, gender, and cultural lines: no one is immune.

While there is still stigma surrounding mental health and addiction issues, the reality is that these are very real, very common, conditions. Further, the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) protects those with mental illness, including addictions, from discrimination, harassment, and reprisal in the workplace.

Your Health Is the Top Priority

Look after your health first. Speak with your family doctor and if your employer offers STD/LTD (short-term disability/long-term disability) plans, don’t be afraid to access them. That is what they are for.

If you are dealing with mental health issues, what are your and your Employers rights and responsibilities under the Code?

The Duty to Accommodate

The Ontario Human Rights Code imposes a duty on employers to accommodate employees with mental health and/or addiction issues in a way that promotes the employee’s integration and full participation in the workforce in a dignified and individualized manner.

There are two components of the Duty to Accommodate; the Procedural Duty and the Substantive Duty.

The Procedural Duty requires the employer and employee to work together, engage in cooperative discussions, and discover the best options to address the affected Employees accommodation needs.

The Substantive Duty involves providing the actual accommodation.

What Your Employer Needs to Know — And What They Don’t

Generally, if you are seeking an accommodation, you can disclose to your employer:

  • that you have a diagnosed disability,
  • that there are limitations or needs in regards to that disability,
  • and ideally you propose the types of accommodations that may be necessary for you to participate fully in the workplace.

Make your needs known to the best of your ability and take part in discussions about solutions.
Employers should limit their requests for information to those reasonably related to the nature of the Employees limitations/restrictions. An Employer generally does not need to know your diagnosis, cause of the disability, symptoms, or any treatment you are undergoing unless these are clearly related to the accommodation process.

The goal is to implement a reasonable solution, not delve into your medical history and private affairs.


The OHRC also protects employees from reprisal. If your employer refuses to discuss your accommodation needs, punishes you or places restrictions or limitations on you as a result of requesting accommodation, or treats you unfairly because of your request or disability, they may be in breach of the Code.

Even if you did not formally advise your employer of your disability, the perception of a disability alone can trigger protections under the Code.

The OHRC offers a number of remedies including the potential for reinstatement, back pay and/or compensation for damages to your dignity, feelings and self-respect. If you believe you have been discriminated against, denied reasonable accommodations, or terminated because of your mental health or addiction issue, contact an employment lawyer to discuss your options.

Remember: employees with mental health and addiction disabilities have the same rights and protections as those with other disabilities.

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About Maxwell Bauer

Max advises on all aspects of the employment relationship, including advising and representing both employees and employers on human rights matters, resolving workplace conflicts, advising on and negotiating severance packages and representing employers and employees in litigation.

In particular, Max has a dedicated interest in the financial services industry as well as human rights matters.

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