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The question

I have depression and anxiety and it’s been difficult to do my job at full capacity for the past few months. I am working with my family doctor and a psychiatrist to determine the best way to improve my mental health, but I still have some days where I’m not functioning at 100 per cent. I want to tell my boss so he doesn’t think that I’m slacking off. But I’m worried about being discriminated against or fired because of it. What should I do?

The first answer

Susanna Quail, partner, Allevato Quail & Roy, Vancouver

The answer depends on a few things, the first being what you mean by “not functioning at 100 per cent.” Are you unable to complete parts of your job? Do you need shorter hours or reduced duties? If you need accommodations, know that you are entitled to them and there is nothing improper about asking for them.

The answer also depends on the size and sophistication of your company. If your employer has an HR department, you should address this through HR, who should have procedures for requesting accommodations. At a small employer, the discussion may be more informal but should still involve providing documentation of your limitations and any accommodation requests. Note that you are generally not required to disclose your diagnosis to your employer, just the information required to accommodate you.

Finally, the answer depends on the culture of your workplace. A sophisticated employer understands the legal obligation not to discriminate against an employee who has requested accommodation. But an unsophisticated employer may not have that understanding and may be more likely to retaliate.

If you think your employer is likely to discriminate against you, your best protection is to communicate transparently and pro-actively – and in writing. It is much harder for an employer to get away with discriminatory conduct when it is indisputable they knew about the need for accommodation. It is much easier when they can pretend they had no idea and their conduct was unrelated to an employee’s disability or medical needs.

The second answer

Susan Tohyama, chief human resources officer, Ceridian, Toronto

For the employee:

You’re not alone. The pandemic has affected people’s mental health around the world, requiring work forces to find new levels of understanding and empathy.

Pro-actively addressing your mental health speaks volumes about your character and commitment to your work. A good employer will see both as gifts to the organization.

Speak to your boss soon, or an HR leader instead if you feel unsure. Schedule time to meet and keep the conversation honest and open. Share that you feel you’ve not been working at your best, would like to again and are taking steps to do so. Then – and this is important – ask to co-develop a plan so you and your boss can align on what “best” looks like right now and how to get there. This ensures they are aware of the situation and are accountable to supporting you.

But have the conversation soon. The longer you wait, the greater the toll on you. There might be more support, understanding and empathy than you imagined.

For the boss:

Employers have a critical role in employee mental health, not only in times of crisis, but as part of a long-term strategy that reaches across the organization. Conversations about mental health and well-being should happen at all levels, backed up by meaningful actions.

Work with your Human Resources team and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to ensure people have access to the type of resources needed to prevent, treat or manage psychological distress and burnout.

An organization that respects, responds to and supports mental health and well-being will be a better place to work and work better.

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