By Richard Johnson.
In its 2017 decision in Saadati v. Moorhead, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that mental health is essential to our society and its workers.
In recent years, we have summarized on our blog several court decisions that reflect these principles, where a judge has granted additional damages to an employee who has been treated in a callous, demeaning or particularly egregious manner by their employer. A central theme of the courts’ discussion in these cases has centred around the harm that this type of treatment can cause to employees’ psychological and emotional wellbeing, their dignity and their mental health.
However, it’s important that employers remember that the courts are not the only legal authority concerned with the issue of employee wellness. WorkSafeBC, which arguably has a more regular and pervasive effect on BC businesses than our courts, is also keenly focused on workplace mental health.
In 2013, WorkSafeBC mandated that all employers follow a new set of rules relating to workplace bullying and harassment. Given that bullying and harassment is extremely detrimental to worker safety, both mental and physical, WorkSafeBC now requires employers to have policy materials in place that will prevent and address such behavior in the workplace. In addition, WorkSafeBC also began to permit employees to make claims for “mental distress” arising from issues in the workplace. Such changes punctuate employers’ legal obligations to protect employee mental health and wellbeing.
Of course, legal minimums are just that: bare minimum standards. There is a wealth of literature confirming that employers who take the lead on encouraging and supporting workplace wellness reap incredible benefits: a happier and more productive workforce, increased employee loyalty and higher profits. Having robust health and wellness packages can also make employers more attractive to potential employees.
Despite the many benefits of paying attention to worker well-being, many employers remain unaware of their legal obligations in this regard. However, ignorance of the law is no excuse. The pre-emptive approach mandated by WorkSafeBC is key. We educate all of our employer clients about their basic legal duties and help them implement proper policy documentation – but we also encourage them to bear in mind the bottom line benefits of going further than the basics. When an organization is proactive in supporting employee mental health and wellness, it is a win-win for both the business and its employees.