Mental illness in the workplace can be difficult to navigate, for both employees and employers. However, there is a pressing need to deal with the issue. The distress that those with mental illness in the workplace face costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year due to loss in productivity from absenteeism and presenteeism [1, 2].

There are several policies surrounding duties of both the employee and the employer in preventing discrimination based on mental health disability under the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Contrary to the intuition of some, accommodation is a shared responsibility, wherein everyone involved has the duty to share information and attempt to find solutions [3]. It is important to note, however, that the accommodation process can be virtually impossible to implement if the employee doesn’t make it known they are in need of accommodation.

The person with the disability is required to “make their accommodation needs known to the best of their ability, preferably in writing” [3]. They are responsible for answering questions, providing information about their limitations and needs, taking part in discussing potential accommodations, and providing supportive documentation when necessary [3].

Once the employee makes it known that they are in need of accommodation, the onus shifts to the employer to implement solutions, unless accommodating would bring the employer undue hardship in that it would be virtually impossible to provide the necessary accommodations [3]. Thus, although the person seeking accommodation has a duty to assist the process and cooperate, they are not themselves responsible for coining the solution, nor leading the accommodation process.

But what if it is not made known to the employer that an accommodation is needed?

Employees can feel burdened with the decision of whether to disclose or not. They might experience a fear of being discriminated against if they choose to disclose. However, vocalizing your needs despite fear of discrimination might be key, as employers are not required to provide accommodation for disabilities they are unaware of but might suspect [3]. The right to an accommodation can thus become irrelevant if it is not made known to the employer that they need to accommodate. Moreover, it might seem more worthwhile to disclose than live in a state of constant discomfort without the establishment of proper accommodations.

But how much information is enough?

The Human Rights Legal Support Centre has stated that because of the “hidden” nature of some disabilities, one might be expected to provide more disclosure than necessary. Power imbalance together with misunderstandings about mental illness on the employer’s part can be key factors in feeling pressure to disclose an immense amount of information to the employer [3]. However, employees are not required to provide an exhaustive amount of information nor documentation in order to warrant need for accommodation [3]. Thus, requests for information should only concern the extent of limitation of the individual so that their specific needs and accommodations can be assessed.

But if the employee chooses not to disclose and the employer speculates their employee might be dealing with a mental health concern, they should not just sit and wait for an employee to disclose. Providing a safe, inclusive workplace environment that can stop mental health concerns from impacting employees in the first place is important. This might be done by building a mental health component into staff trainings through human resources, ensuring managers and supervisors are sensitive to the language they use on a day-to-day basis, and providing a safe space for employees to engage in dialogue about these issues with the employers so that policies can be revised accordingly.


By: Christina Gizzo

Edited by: Alisia Bonnick

Image by: GETTY Images



[1] Mental Health Commission of Canada (2012) The Facts. Retrieved from:

[2] Canadian Mental Health Association (2015) Mental Illness in the Workplace. Retrieved from:

[3] Ontario Human Rights Commission (2014) Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions. Retrieved from: