The Fundamentals - Employers' Responsibilities

Because employers control the workplace, they are responsible for protecting employee health and safety, including mental health. This requires managers to take steps to protect employees from preventable risks. Their responsibilities include:

  • Following good management practices to promote good health and well-being;
  • Remaining aware of safe work practices;
  • Recognizing that informing employees is critical to reducing the risk of illness or injury;
  • Looking and listening for signs of emotional stress or physical discomfort in employees;
  • Creating a work environment that supports employee well-being and performance, and enabling employees to get help if there are signs of a possible health problem; and
  • Communicating management's concern and support for their employees' health and well-being.

For additional information, refer to Managing for Wellness: Disability Management Handbook for Managers in the Federal Public Service.

Performance at work is inextricably linked to physical and psychological well-being (see diagram following).

Figure 1: Physical and Psychological Well-Being
Physical and Psychological Well-Being: Text version below
Figure 1: Physical and Psychological Well-Being - Text version

Correctional Service Canada's Return-to-Work Committee Structure comprises three committees:

This diagram outlines a continuum of three zones—liability, responsibility and discretionary—with examples within this continuum of conduct at work and their psychological consequences.

From the liability to the responsibility zones, examples of conduct at work are harassment, discrimination, bullying, verbal abuse, unfairness and incivility have respective psychological consequences of suicide, post-traumatic stress, clinical depression, anxiety, demoralization and tension.

From the responsibility zone to the discretionary zone, examples of conduct at work are carefulness, civility and fairness; respectfulness and consideration have respective psychological consequences of commitment, loyalty, engagement and job satisfaction.

Mental Health Commission of Canada, Martin Shain, Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm, p. 4, Figure 1.


The Canada Revenue Agency,with contributions from Canadian Heritage, Justice Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and the Department of National Defence and the involvement of Health Canada, the House of Commons, Statistics Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the National Council of Federal Employees with Disabilities, produced Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace: Manager's Guide.

Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (OCDPA)

The OCDPA has issued a useful handbook: Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance Ideas for Organizations to Promote Positive Mental Health.

Promising Practices

Department of National Defence (DND): Mental Health Training

The Canadian Forces (CF) Primary Leadership Curriculum includes a workshop on the subject of mental health, which has recently been adapted for DND's civilian population as well. The core of the DND/CF program is a mental health continuum model (see images below) that was jointly developed with the United States Marine Corps Department of Psychiatry.

The objectives of the course include:

  • Understanding the impact of mental health issues on the work environment;
  • Identifying the barriers that keep people who suffer from mental illness from seeking treatment;
  • Recognizing the behavioural signs suggesting that someone may be suffering from a mental health issue; and
  • Applying effective management strategies to support employees suffering from a mental illness.
Figure 2: Mental Health Continuum Model
Mental Health Continuum Model
Figure 2: Mental Health Continuum Model - Text version

This diagram describes the range of mental health—healthy, reacting, injured and ill—and lists the behaviours associated with each part of this range.

Healthy behaviours include normal mood fluctuations, calmness and the ability to take things in stride, a good sense of humour, good performance, being in control, normal sleep patterns, few sleep difficulties, being physically well, having a good energy level, being physically and socially active, and limited or no alcohol use or gambling.

Reacting behaviours include being irritable or impatient, being nervous, being sad or overwhelmed, expressing displaced sarcasm, procrastination, forgetfulness, having trouble sleeping, having intrusive thoughts, having nightmares, having muscle tension or headaches, having low energy, decreased activity or socializing, and regular but controlled alcohol use or gambling.

Injured behaviours include anger, anxiety, pervasive sadness or hopelessness, a negative attitude, poor performance or workaholic behaviour, poor concentration or decisions, restless or disturbed sleep, recurrent images or nightmares, increased aches and pains, increased fatigue, avoidance, withdrawal, and increased alcohol use or hard-to-control gambling.

Ill behaviours include angry outbursts or aggression; excessive anxiety or panic attacks; depression or suicidal thoughts; excessive insubordination; an inability to perform duties, control behaviour or concentrate; an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep; sleeping too much or too little; physical illnesses; constant fatigue; not going out or not answering phone; and an alcohol or gambling addiction or other addictions.

Figure 3: What Managers Can Do
What Managers Can Do
Figure 3: What Managers Can Do - Text version

This diagram describes the range of mental health—healthy, reacting, injured and ill—and gives examples of what managers can do for employees who are experiencing characteristics within each part of that range.

The following is what managers can do to support employees who are healthy:

  • Lead by example;
  • Get to know employees;
  • Foster healthy climate;
  • Identify and resolve problems early;
  • Deal with performance issues promptly;
  • Demonstrate genuine concern;
  • Provide opportunities for rest; and
  • Advocate.

The following is what managers can do to support employees who are reacting and injured:

  • Watch for behaviour changes;
  • Adjust workload as required;
  • Know the resources and how to access them;
  • Reduce barriers to seeking help;
  • Encourage early access to care; and
  • Consult with HR or medical resources as required.

The following is what managers can do to support employees who are ill:

  • Involve mental health resources;
  • Respect confidentiality;
  • Minimize rumours;
  • Respect medical employment limitations;
  • Appropriately employ personnel;
  • Maintain respectful contact;
  • Involve members in social support;
  • Seek consultation as needed; and
  • Manage unacceptable behaviours.

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