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IMPACT@Work: Employee Rights and Responsibilities

I’ve had countless conversations with people about their mental illness, and we often discuss the sticky situations surrounding disclosure, and managing mental illness at work. When I first started working, I didn’t understand how to navigate working with a mental illness, as well as disclosing it.

Here are the basics of what you need to know about your rights:

  1. You have the right to ask for accommodations. Mental Illness can fall under disability, and workplaces have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that you can perform your job adequately.  Depression is the leading cause of disability in Canada, which is very costly to employers, so it really is in their best interest as well as yours to come up with a plan of action. These accommodations can include more flexible hours, a schedule that allows working from home, or altering the nature of the work itself if need be.
  2. You have the right to disclosure. This means that it is entirely up to you to decide how much or how little you want to tell your employer about the nature of your condition or disability. You have an obligation to express what limitations you have or accommodations you may need, as well as if your condition will prohibit you from doing your job the way someone else might. You do NOT have to give them details about your condition, and they are not allowed to ask for details. If you’re unsure about if your boss is acting accordingly, or you feel they are asking too many questions, contact your HR representative and they will be able to facilitate the process.
  3. Discrimination because of your mental illness is illegal, and you can make claims against your employer if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your mental illness. For example, it is illegal if your employer knows that you have a mental illness and purposely does not promote you because of it. As a result, many people choose not to disclose their mental illness because they are afraid of the repercussions. Unfortunately, by not disclosing, many people are not granted the accommodations they need to succeed in their position.

I’ve often found that different things work for different people when it comes to dealing with their mental illness at work, though there are many common struggles. I’ve come up with some tips on what works for me, but this doesn’t mean that these will work for everyone.

  1. Decide when (and how much) to disclose ahead of time. This can also depend on the position. If i know that the employer I am speaking with in an interview is more likely to be accommodating, I will share a bit more about my situation. Generally, I will always say the word “disability” during the interview process, because if I am afraid of getting rejected, I would rather it be in the interview process than when I am already working. Some people will argue that they will wait until they are working because then the employer definitely has an obligation to accommodate (as opposed to in the interview when you are simply not selected). Either way, knowing what you may or may not what to say in advance can help you articulate your needs.
  2. Explain your limitations clearly, but have an action plan to ensure your work will be okay. For example, if you have panic attacks and choose to disclose that you need accommodation for them, know what your accommodation should be. Saying something like “I occasionally have panic attacks, and having a secluded, quiet place to go to when this happens is important for me to get back to work sooner rather than later.” This way, the employer knows exactly what you need, and can help you access resources that may help. Another example is if you know you will be going to see a therapist once a week, but you’ll need to be away from work, try an alternative like “On Wednesdays, I need an extended lunch hour for an appointment, but can ensure that my deliverables are still met by the end of the day, even if I come in early or stay late.” By showing you’ve already found a way to work around your needs, you’re showing initiative and an understanding of the organization’s needs.
  3. Give yourself permission to have ups and downs. I know  that sometimes I have bad days, and I may not be as chipper or friendly on those days, and I need to be okay with that. Everyone has off days, and mine are sometimes worse than my colleagues. I’m learning to give myself permission to take a sick day to care for my mental health, and I’m also learning that one off day doesn’t negate the other great days I’ve had where I’m fantastic at my job. So if I’m really anxious one day, and I leave at 4pm instead of 5pm, I do my best to not beat myself up over it, because I know that another day when I’m feeling great I will stay until 6pm. I also know that the quality of my work can depend on my mental state, and I don’t want to produce sub par work.
  4. Your mental health comes first. Your work comes second. I’m definitely guilty of forgetting that I am more important than my work, but it’s crucial to work to remember that you’re actually much more important than your work. You need to take care of yourself first (not to mention that your work will suffer anyways if you don’t), and making yourself a priority is in everyone’s best interest. Recognize if work is getting too stressful, or if your hours are getting too long, and find a way to work around it. Perhaps you always take a day off after your busy season to just rest and relax, or maybe you find yourself always working too late so you set dinner plans to ensure you get out at a decent time. Finding ways to make sure you’re taken care of and in a great mental state ensures you can be healthy and productive – a win-win for everyone!
  5. Own it! I’m proud of what I have overcome, and I’m learning to let go of the shame and stigma I’ve experienced because of my mental illness. My mental illness doesn’t make me any less of an employee, and it doesn’t make me any less of a performer. I know I can be successful even with the issues I’ve faced, so don’t allow yourself to preclude yourself from bigger opportunities. A person with a mental health concern can still be a stellar employee, and drive excellent results. Just because I need some accommodations, or more flexibility in certain areas doesn’t mean I can’t do a good job and be the best version of myself more often than now. Believe in yourself, fight for the rights you deserve, and keep moving forward (even if you sometimes go backwards).

 

Keep Surviving by Living.

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IMPACT@Work: Andrea Martineau – Wellness Retail Associate/Laser Technician

What happens when you work in an industry build on creating wellness and providing consumers with greater happiness, comfort, and services that give them a better life? We think of hospitality workers as people that are always happy and smiling, ready to provide stellar customer service, but what happens when an employee is struggling to be that upbeat, happy person? I’m so excited to share Andrea Martineau’s perspective on what it’s like being on the other side of the service desk. It’s well thought out, brings up important issues surrounding cultural appropriation and calls for greater action from employers, employees, and consumers.

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IMPACT@Work: Power Dynamics and Corporate Conduct (Anonymous)

What happens when your workplace touts itself as being mental-health friendly, and emphasizes the importance of empowerment, open communication, support and diversity, but misses the mark in reality? What happens when you’re the only one to realize this, and you’re forced to address power dynamics and unfair practices while dealing with your own mental health concerns?

This post is written anonymously, because we unfortunately still live in a world where there are consequences to speaking out against organizational injustices, and the repercussions of speaking publicly are too costly. That does not make this story any less important or valid; in fact, the opposite is true. 

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IMPACT@Work

I am SO excited to announce a new project I’ve been working on, called IMPACT@Work. A branch of off last year’s initiative, The IMPACT Project, IMPACT@Work addresses how our professional lives and mental health are undeniably intertwined.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen mental health become a more approachable conversation with friends, family, and other people I interact with. What has progressed at a snail’s pace is the presence of these conversations in a professional context.

According to CAMH, 39% of people in Ontario would not tell their managers if they had a mental health concern, and 64% would be concerned about how work would be affected if a coworker had a mental illness. These facts are not okay. IMPACT@Work is here to change these statistics.

Employee mental health is not the sole responsibility of the employee – it falls to the employer too. Even if we speak crassly in pure dollars, the cost of mental illness to companies is estimated to be upwards of $6 billion every year (CMHA).

IMPACT@Work will explore mental health at work in a number of different ways, including:

  • The impact of our careers on our mental health
  • The impact of our mental health on our careers and professional development
  • What workplaces are getting right when it comes to supporting people, and what they are getting wrong. The “workplace” involves three separate realms, that all need to work together to support employees
    • The company as a whole, through policies and culture
    • The employees’ direct managers and their attitude and support
    • The nature of the work itself, and the mental health issues that can be brought on by it

There are SO many stories out there, and I can’t wait to share them with you over the coming weeks. From HR professionals, to first responders, every contributor has a unique story, and each one will inspire action to make our workplaces a more inclusive space.

If you’re interested in being involved, either publicly or anonymously, please reach out to me at ameeraladak@gmail.com, or contribute anonymously here.

Our stories deserve to be told, and it’s time to hold employers accountable for making workplaces accessible to everyone.

Keep Surviving by Living.