Bringing Practitioner-Focused Research to People Management Practitioners
In This Issue…
Invisible Barriers: Accommodating Mental Illness in the Workplace
Grow Your HR Career by Helping to Grow Your Organization
Flashback Feature: The Seniority Principle: Is It Discriminatory?
Invisible Barriers: Accommodating Mental Illness in the Workplace Deborah Hudson, Lawyer, Turnpenney Milne LLP, 2016
Mental illness is a leading cause of disability in Canada.(1) In fact, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are not able to work due to mental health problems in any given week.(2) Twenty percent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and it is likely that all of us will be directly or indirectly impacted by mental illness through family members, friends or colleagues.(3) As Canadians and medical professionals increase awareness and understanding regarding mental illness, our workplace and human rights laws similarly evolve in attempts to protect mental illnesses like any other disability. While our laws strive to provide adequate workplace protections in relation to mental illness, the art of managing mental health accommodations remains challenging for employers and employees alike.
Visible or physical disabilities can often be easier to understand and to accommodate. Defined physical restrictions or recovery periods provide finite terms which are easier to address and are easier to accept as legitimate needs. Accommodating the invisible barriers presented by mental illness often remains far more challenging. Many persons experiencing mental illness may not wish to share details in the workplace, fearing stigmatization, embarrassment or privacy issues. Other persons may lack awareness that they are undergoing a health-related issue. For example, those struggling with addiction may have little or no self-knowledge that a medically recognized disability drives their compulsion to use. Adults experiencing their first episode related to mental illness may not recognize the signs and symptoms until weeks, months or years after the occasion.
Employers face a variety of different but equally challenging situations. For instance, when an employee silently struggles, employers may be tasked with difficult conversations to ensure adequate inquiry while not overreaching.
Grow Your HR Career by Helping to Grow Your Organization Sandi Cardillo, Queen’s IRC Facilitator, 2015
“Argh… it’s frustrating,” said Jennifer, taking another bite of her kale and apple salad. “He drops these articles in my inbox as part of our new mentoring agreement. I’m not sure how to think about it.”
“What is it this time?” Nicole, Jennifer’s friend in marketing communications, replied. “I think it’s cool you have a mentor. Not only do you get to assist your VP in running the talent management program for the company, you’ve been chosen for the ‘Rising Stars’ program.”
“I know,” said Jennifer. “It’s just frustrating to get articles about the future of HR and how senior leaders don’t always value what we do in an organization. I love HR. I love having a degree in HR. I worked hard for my credentials. I just don’t get it.”
“Why don’t you ask him?” Nicole retorted, as she dashed off to her appointment with the company webmaster. “He’s got his reasons. Ask him.”
In my teaching and consulting practice, HR professionals often recount stories like this. Someone, somewhere, makes a disparaging remark about human resources as a “dead end,” “non-value add” or “being the department that just gets in the way.”
Here’s the news. This is no longer truth. This is a wonderful time to be an HR professional. It’s time to grow into a true business partner. It’s time to be seen as someone who “gets it.” In the same way that the finance and technology functions have moved from the “number crunchers” and the “geek squad” to strategic business partners, it is time for HR professionals to step into strategic human capital management roles with a full understanding of what that means to their organization. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Ram Charon and others (Ram Charon, 2015, p. 63) write that “it’s time for HR to make the same leap that the finance function has made in recent decades and become a true partner to the CEO.”
Flashback Feature: The Seniority Principle: Is It Discriminatory? Kathryn MacLeod, 1987
The increasing public awareness of the inequality prevalent in the Canadian workplace has led to a state whereby employees are questioning the effects that employment rules and practices have on them as individuals, as well as members of a group. Seniority systems are one such employment practice which is under examination for a discriminatory effect on women and minorities in the labour force.
This paper pursues the questionable effects of seniority systems by examining: the remedial powers at the disposal of each legal forum available to an employee to pursue a discrimination claim, the relevant Canadian jurisprudence on discrimination, and the American experience with discrimination claims based on seniority. This paper concludes with a proposal detailing an outline of an affirmative action plan tailored to fit the Canadian situation as it is exposed by the previous sections of the paper.