Understanding & Accommodating Mental Illness

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January 31st has been designated ‘Bell Lets Talk Day’ in an attempt to recognize that we as a society need work on acknowledging mental illness. Mental illness is as real as physical illness. Just like physical illness, mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes and does not discriminate against who it attacks.

Statistically, in any given year 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. The Canadian Mental Health Association website shares other startling statistics with respect to how common mental illness is amongst us. Initiatives like ‘Bells Let’s Talk Day’ help reduce the stigma and resulting discrimination attached to mental illness. However, the reality is understanding and acceptance of mental illness in our society is not what it should be…. yet.

As an employment lawyer, a common scenario I see is a client who has been either discriminated against at work or terminated as a direct result of their mental illness. A mental illness, just like a physical illness, can affect a person’s ability to do their job effectively. However, just like a physical illness or handicap, a mental illness that is appropriately treated and accommodated can be overcome. In Nova Scotia we have the NS Human Rights Act. One of the specific intents of this law is to prevent employers from discriminating against employees who are struggling with a mental illness. (Quite simply, it is illegal in Nova Scotia for an employer to treat an employee negatively because they have a mental illness).

Under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act an employer has the obligation to accommodate an employee with a mental illness to the point of unreasonable hardship. That means that an employer may actually have to experience some inconvenience or economic hardship to their business in order to accommodate a person with mental illness. This law is in place to recognize that we are not all the same, but as a society we will work to be inclusive and value all people equally. For more information on the NS Human Rights Act, visit the NS Human Rights Commission.

Part of the job of the NS Human Rights Commission is to help you resolve disputes you may be having at work. If you feel discriminated against, you may contact them for advice and guidance. You may also contact a lawyer to help you better understand your rights. Both can bring all the parties together, help the employer understand that they have been discriminating and reach an acceptable solution where the employer has better practices moving forward with respect to how people with mental illness are treated. If the employer is unwilling to come to an agreement then a board of inquiry can be struck through the Human Rights Commission. You can also take your employer to court for violating the Human Rights Act. If the complaint goes to a board of inquiry the commission represents the interests of the general society and the person who was discriminated against has the option, to hire their own lawyer to represent them personally.

Regardless of the route you take, know that in Nova Scotia it is not acceptable or legal for an employer to discriminate against you for reasons of having a mental illness. If you feel you have been discriminated against, or have been let go from your job because of a mental illness reach out to the NS Human Rights Commission or a lawyer to help you understand what you can do about it.

If you have any questions about this subject, you can call us at (902) 826-3070 or email us at info@highlanderlaw.ca to set up a meeting with one of our lawyers at our Tantallon law firm. You can also schedule a no commitment Issue Review Consult for $100+HST where you have the opportunity to explain your situation to a lawyer and get basic advice before deciding whether or not you'd like to retain us.

By : Dianna M. Rievaj LLB, MBA Managing Lawyer

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. Nothing contained on this blog is legal advice or constitutes a legal opinion. While it is our goal to provide information which is current, legislative changes and court decisions, among other matters, may result in some information no longer being current or accurate. You should consult a lawyer before relying on any information. The views expressed herein by individual contributing lawyers posting entries to the blog are solely those of the authors and should not necessarily be attributed to or considered representative of the firm of Highlander Law Group Lawyers