Bottom Line

As businesses across Canada prepare to reopen, mental health is an important consideration for employers. When creating reopening plans, employers should maintain open lines of communication with employees to reduce the fear of returning to work, and contemplate whether they have accommodation obligations for employees with mental health disabilities that may have been triggered or exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Stress and Worry about COVID-19

A recent research poll conducted by Nanos for the Mental Health Commission of Canada surveyed over 1,000 individuals and found that approximately 84% of participants reported feeling some amount of stress related to COVID-19, with 13% reporting they felt stress all the time, and 33% reporting they felt stress regularly because of the pandemic.

As workplaces prepare to reopen, it is important to take this new mental health landscape into consideration and maintain an open dialogue with employees to facilitate a smooth and effective transition back to work.

Workplace Health and Safety

Due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic generally, workplaces that are reopening may see an increase in COVID-19-related work refusals. While health and safety requirements and the response to work refusals will vary depending on the workplace and the jurisdiction in which the employer operates, clear and regular communication with employees about the measures employers are taking to keep them safe is an important tool that employers should use to help manage employee concern and mitigate potential work refusals.

In Ontario, for instance, employers have an obligation under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) to provide a safe work environment and to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers. For workplaces that are reopening this likely includes, but may not be limited to, following public health advice and any government-issued sector-specific guidelines regarding COVID-19.

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