has to meet the same business objectives with an employee who
may not be doing their job effectively.”
Accommodation (where required) and a return-to-work plan
should help develop a solution that supports employee success on
the job, which is more likely to benefit everyone involved.
“The idea of a graduated plan for an employee returning from a
mental illness-related leave is that we help the employee to build
up strengths over time, rather than expecting less from them,
which is often de-motivating,” said Baynton.
NEED TO ACCOMMODATE
An employee’s physician will indicate when he or she is ready to
head back to work, and will let you know if accommodation needs
to be part of the arrangements.
An employer’s need to accommodate an employee is a legal obligation,
but there are other compelling reasons to accommodate.
On a very basic level, there’s an employer’s social responsibility
to assist an employee, since there are significant gaps in our public
health system when it comes treatment, support and care of
mental-health related illnesses.
There’s also a strong business case for bringing an employee
back into the corporate fold sooner rather than later.
“If you focus on trying to get people back into the workforce
early on, particularly with many mental health issues, most of the
research would indicate that it actually aids in the employee’s recovery,”
said Adam Kelly, a VP at Morneau Shepell in the Absence
Management Solutions division. “Getting them back and engaged
in the workplace is really important.”
Generally speaking, it’s human nature to want to be productive
and make a contribution.
“When people are on a leave from work dealing with a significant
mental health episode, most of them are not happy being
away and disconnected from the workplace. They’re struggling
with some serious issues,” said Kelly. “Research will tell you that
getting back in the workplace helps with a recovery and makes the
return to work more sustainable over time.”
What’s more, the longer an employee dealing with a mental
health illness is away from the workplace, the less likely it becomes
that she will ever return. In fact, mental illness is the leading reason
for long-term disability claims in Canada.
REORIENTATION AFTER LEAVE
In some cases, accommodation might not be necessary. That
doesn’t mean, however, that the employee should immediately leap
back into his former routine.
“Not everyone who experiences depression or anxiety-related
disorders actually needs formal accommodation,” said Baynton.
“But what the literature says is that anyone who’s been away from
work for 12 weeks or more likely needs a return-to-work plan – a
gradual plan and a way to reintegrate with the team and retrain or
reorient to the work.”
Much like someone who has been away with a physical injury
like a broken leg, getting back into a routine can take some time.
“The other point to remember is that things change when
you’re away. Work isn’t the same after 12 weeks,” said Baynton.
“Employees can’t just pick up where they left off. They need to get
back to speed gradually.”
DEVISING A PLAN
To ease re-entry and determine what the employee is capable of
handling, you’ll need a collaborative effort. This may mean hiring
an external firm specializing in reintegrating employees coming
back from leave. For some, this is a natural decision: reputable
firms have a depth of knowledge in this area that people in the
organization are unlikely to possess, objectivity to make clear decisions
and the bandwidth to devote as much time as necessary to
If you’re searching for more information on mental health-related issues in the workplace and
back-to-work programs, the following free resources offer expert guidance and training.
Supporting Employee Success: A Tool to Plan
Accommodations that Support Success at Work
This PDF booklet provides training, resources and support to help managers have
effective conversations with their employees, as part of accommodation and return-towork
planning. Access the PDF by visiting http://bit.ly/1wg5tq4. (The Supporting Employee
Success authors are seeking feedback about the publication. To contribute, go to
Managing Mental Health Matters
This online video-based training program for leaders and supervisors covers a range mentalhealth
related concerns, including accommodation, performance, managing conflict and return
to work. Go to www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/mmhm/ for more information.
All of the Centre’s tools and resources are available at no charge
at www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com, and in French at
18 ❚ MAY/JUNE 2015 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL